Wall Street Journal Examines New Vending Machines for Prescription Drugs
The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday examined new "ATM-like" vending machines that some drugstores and grocery stores in California and Virginia have installed or plan to install to dispense prescription drugs.
After customers fill an initial prescription with a pharmacist, they can register to receive and pay for refills through the machines, regardless of whether the pharmacy is open. Customers can order refills online or by telephone, and a pharmacist fills their prescriptions and places the packaged medications in the machine. Customers log on to the machine with a user name and password and can pay for refills with a credit or debit card.
The California Board of Pharmacy and the Virginia Board of Pharmacy have issued waivers of rules that require the presence of pharmacists when prescription drugs are dispensed to allow the use of the machines, and other state pharmacy boards might issue similar waivers. In California, the state pharmacy board has proposed a permanent rule revision, on which the state Office of Administrative Law likely will decide early next year, that would eliminate the need for such waivers.
In addition, the Wisconsin Pharmacy Examining Board recently met with two companies that distribute the machines as part of an effort to improve access to prescription drugs for residents in rural areas.
Some pharmacists and state regulators have raised concerns that customers who use the machines might receive incorrect prescription drugs. However, Bill Holmes -- president of DDN, which manufactures Automated Pharmacy Machines -- said that the machines use bar code and other technologies to avoid errors. "To date, they haven't dispensed a single one inaccurately," he said.
Some pharmacists also have raised concerns that the machines "cut out traditional face-to-face consultations" with customers, the Journal reports. Mary Ann Wagner, vice president of pharmacy regulatory affairs for the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, said, "There's a lot of leeriness on the part of regulators and the fear that something like this could replace the pharmacist" (Rundle, Wall Street Journal, 6/21).