Today’s #bizlunchclub discussion: Automated Prescription Vending

User @kahji asked about Automated Prescription Vending machines on today’s BusinessLunchClub discussion. Great question! It made me think about the pros and cons, and I sent some in a tweet but am expanding on it here.

Pros:

  • Lower cost: Less cost for storage, pharm-techs, etc.
  • Reduced human error: I can’t read those doctor’s prescriptions and I’m not sure that pharmacists can, either.
  • 24/7 service: Assuming that these are in a publicly accessible place 24/7. (Although, in some neighborhoods, that might be a con, not a pro).

Cons:

  • It seems like there is little control over who can pick up the meds. APVs would allow anyone with the right prescription document to get it. That doesn’t seem right to me. Isn’t there some kind of identity check required for the release of meds? [Disclaimer it’s been a long time since I’ve had a prescription filled… so maybe there isn’t].
  • Pharmacists are (in my opinion) a HUGE part of the medical system but are undervalued as merely being human prescription vendors. I think they can do much more and I’m afraid that we would lose that with a vending machine. In many ways, it’s not like a bank’s ATM (replacing the teller) or a pop machine (replacing the convenience store clerk). Pharmacists also provide advice.

Potential middle ground: Standard meds for seasoned users would be a good use for APVs. But for first time med users, and for medicines that have serious side-effects or non-standard formulations, a pharmacist is still necessary.

As an investment opportunity, I’m curious about getting one of these for the lobbies of doctor’s offices. Doctor writes a prescription and it can be filled right in the lobby on the patient’s way out the door. Fast and convenient. I’m not sure about the ethical implications, though: would a doctor tend to prescribe medication that was available at their APV (assuming that they’re getting a small incentive)?

Here’s a cautionary tale from my college days: We had a vending machine in the laundry room of my dorm. And someone discovered that if you put inyour change, you could get your pop… and then you could also get as many iced teas as you wanted, simply by pressing the iced tea button several times. And then you could press the coin return button and a handful of change would be dispensed. As you can imagine, it lasted until we ran out of iced tea and change and then the company switched machines. Note to APV manufacturers: You’ll want to implement some related controls!

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