Minnesota Pharmacy Board Approves New Drug Dispensing Vending Machines
Minnesota pharmacy regulators have approved use of the first automated prescription drug dispenser, the AP/Contra Costa Times reports. InstyMeds is currently operating in a pilot project in a suburban Minneapolis pediatrics practice. Doctors in that office use "Palm Pilot-like electronic prescription pads" to write prescriptions, "eliminating" legibility problems, and "allowing a quick records check" to verify that there are no interactions with a patient's current medications. Physicians enter the patient's weight and the device calculates the correct dosage -- "eliminating another opportunity for error." The device then prints out a hard copy of the prescription, with a security code listed at the bottom that patients can type into the InstyMeds machine. After the machine verifies the prescription and checks insurance records, and the patient swipes a credit card to cover any co-payment, the machine's bar-code reader "picks a bottle with the right dose and amount of medicine, slaps on the instruction label, and out it pops." Dr. Keenan Richardson, one of six physicians in the practice testing the system, said, "People who use it once ... consistently want to use it again."
The AP/Times reports that physicians and pharmacists must now decide on the best way to use the new technology -- as "convenient one-stop doctoring for the insured middle class" or to "cut the workload of pill-counting pharmacists so they have time to teach patients safe medication use." One possible problem is access, as some patients "may not have credit cards" and therefore could be unable to benefit from the machine. In addition, although InstyMeds may be able to store more than 80 different prescription drugs -- "customized to each office's prescribing habits" -- the AP/Times reports that "it can't carry everything." The machine would also eliminate pharmacists' role in "counseling patients on safe drug use," according to Matthew Grissinger of the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, an industry watchdog. Mendota Healthcare Inc., the company that developed InstyMeds, is currently negotiating to place the machine in more doctors' offices and emergency rooms. Some drugstores are considering using the machines for "easy-to-fill" prescriptions, "free[ing]" pharmacists for "more important work, like counseling" patients (Neergaard, AP/Contra Costa Times, 11/13).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.