The next wave of automation is here, and this time, it’s pharmacy automation. Pharmacy kiosks are a growing reality, and there is currently a bill moving through the House in Florida that would bring them to the state. These automated pharmacy systems aren’t without criticism, however.
A House health care panel in Florida unanimously agreed to approve HB 59, which allows community pharmacies to use automated systems to give people access to prescription drugs. Proponents of the technology say that it offers an unprecedented level of convenience. Rep. Matt Willhite, a Wellington Democrat, sponsored the bill and said often people will leave the hospital and as they go to the pharmacy they’re told they have to come back in a few hours. Willhite went on to say that this can be challenging for many people.
What Are Automated Pharmacy Kiosks?
An automated pharmacy kiosk is a system that dispenses prescription drugs and includes video conferencing technology. This allows a pharmacist to speak with the patient about their prescription, as is the case in a traditional pharmacy setting. Currently, under Florida law, the use of automated pharmacy kiosks is allowed in institutional facilities. There are two systems approved by the Florida Board of Pharmacy to be used on hospital campuses, and they are currently in place in hospitals in Jacksonville and Miami.
The new pending legislation in Florida would allow for community pharmacies to launch the automated pharmacy kiosk system and operate them. If the traditional pharmacy were closed, the kiosks would still be open.
Limitations of Pharmacy Automation Systems
With the ongoing opioid epidemic that has been hitting Florida hard, there may be questions about the use of pharmacy dispensing kiosks for substances on the controlled substances list. Not all prescriptions, including controlled substances, would be available through the machines. This would potentially lower the likelihood of people breaking into the machines trying to obtain these substances.
What Are the Risks of Pharmacy Kiosks?
Even with the potential for controlled substances to be a target with these machines taken off the table, there are still some possible risks that opponents of the proposed legislation are highlighting. One worry is that the bill, as it stands now, doesn’t restrict the location of the kiosks to current pharmacy locations.
That means that a pharmacy could, in theory, put the machines wherever they want. If a patient were to have a problem with their medication, not being near a pharmacy could be an issue. Pharmacists also would have more difficulties inspecting these machines and making sure they’re working the way they’re supposed to if they’re not geographically nearby.
The bill also doesn’t address whether or not there would be a convenience fee charged to patients if they were to get their prescriptions through the pharmacy kiosks. A lobbyist who represents the kiosk company MedAvail said that would be a decision ultimately left to the community pharmacy, but some advocates say it should be addressed now before the bill moves any further.