Vending machines have a new purpose in the medical world. In two states, they are now being used to refill prescription drugs.
Just like you buy a soda...get some chips...or even get cash from an ATM, some patients can now get their prescription refills from a machine!
"This is good because sometimes when I come, the line is long, so I can avoid that." says patient Rita DeFilippo.
California and Virginia have approved automated prescription delivery machines at a handful of pharmacies. Here's how it works: a pharmacist fills your prescription and puts it in the machine. Then you enter a password, pay with a credit or debit card and, seconds later, out comes your prescription....at your convenience, even if the pharmacy is closed.
Only refills are available, not new prescriptions. But some are concerned about the lack of human interaction.
"If a patient comes up and gets a prescription and they have some information they want to know about it, there's nobody there to talk to," says pharmacist Gordon McGwire.
If the pharmacy is closed, the machine provides a 24-hour number for questions. Supporters say there's no more chance of mistakes with this than a busy pharmacist handing over the wrong prescription at the counter.
"This frees up our clerks, our technicians, our pharmacists to actually help the patients, or talk to the patients, the ones that need it," says pharmacist Jan Urbanski.
In California, some pharmacists sued to keep the machines out of pharmacies. That case is pending, but this may be just the beginning. Mail-order and internet prescriptions are booming. Robots now deliver drugs in some hospitals. And in New York, patients can talk live with a pharmacist via videophone, 24-7.
What's next? Or maybe a better question is where next? Besides California and Virginia, several states are considering the automated pharmacy machines. But so far, Texas is not one of them.