Drug Vending Machines Dispense Prescriptions in U.K.
In the U.S., most vending machines provide only corn syrup confections. Vending machines in the U.K., however, may soon deliver something substantially more healthy: medicine.
Sainsbury's, a U.K. supermarket chain, has already begun testing one drug delivery machine in its Essex stores. In order to use the device, customers have to use a unique ID or fingerprint, along with a special PIN code to identify themselves. Once they've entered their prescription information into the machine, a real-life pharmacist will scoop it up, fill it out, and put the goods back in the machine for the patient to retrieve. The machine doesn't seem to do a whole lot, other than create more distance between pharmacists and sick people, but Sainsbury's customer Roy Swift seems to find it useful. "The first time I used it, it was a little bit unfamiliar," Swift told the BBC. "But after I got used to it was very easy."
Meanwhile, a second, more interactive drug dispensary will be tested in U.K. hospitals this winter. Patients using this machine will be able to directly engage with a pharmacist via video screen, while the pharmacist can use the device's built-in camera to get a better look at a prescription. Once the professional has reviewed the prescription, conducted a full medical history, and checked for ID, he or she can authorize the machine to deliver medicine on the spot.
If either of these machines ever want to make it into the general marketplace, though, they'll have to overcome some significant opposition. Aside from the $78,390 price tag, several experts are concerned that automated drug dispensaries could sap all of the subjectivity out of an inherently human field. "Giving out medicine is not just box-shifting," argues Dr. Laurence Buckman, chairman of the British Medical Association GP Committee. "The patient doesn't know if there are any questions that need to be asked or answered. The pharmacist hasn't met them so doesn't know either."
But David Miller, chief pharmacist at City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust, thinks otherwise. "There are many occasions where a full pharmacy service is currently uneconomic," he told the BBC. "This machine extends the reach of the pharmacist and provides increased access for the patient to a safe medication supply." And, ultimately, these machines will never be able to fully replace a pharmacist's human touch. "This technology is an enabler, not a replacement for pharmacists," Miller says. [From: BBC, via: Engadget]