Saturday, November 03, 2007

Vending Machine That Dispenses Medicine

After visiting the doctor for the flu or other common complaint, the last thing consumers want to do is to make a second trip to a pharmacist and wait while their prescription gets filled. InstyMeds, a US startup, has devised a novel way to make getting medications easy. The company’s vending machines are designed to be placed in doctors’ offices, clinics, emergency rooms and other healthcare facilities. Each holds 100 of some of the most often used medications that can range from pills to drops to creams and so forth.

InstyMeds machines require that physicians create prescriptions electronically, which are then transmitted to the vending location. (Alternately, patients can take printed prescriptions to their regular pharmacists.) The machines include several safeguards to insure patients receive the proper medications their doctors ordered. From the patients’ point of view, however, the ordering process is relatively simple. They enter their prescription number and birthday via a user-friendly touchscreen monitor, then insert either cash or credit cards to cover co-pays, while their insurance companies are billed automatically.

Besides saving time for patients, InstyMeds machines also save pharmacists the slow and potentially error-prone process of counting out medications by hand. Indeed, relieving pharmacists from such routine tasks could turn out to be the machine’s major benefit. With pharmacist salaries in the United States climbing over USD 100,000, the time savings can mean significant cash savings. The vending machines, which are accessible 24/7, likewise could help alleviate a growing shortage of pharmacists. Moreover, InstyMed’s founders note that by handling routine prescriptions the vending machines let pharmacists focus on more important tasks such as counselling patients.

While start-up costs are likely to be high for any new venture in the heavily-regulated health arena, InstyMeds illustrates how entrepreneurs can devise niche products that handily meet customer needs while potentially chipping away at ever-growing healthcare costs.

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