Ontario Slated To Allow Vending Machines For Pharmacies

The health minister for Ontario, David Caplan will be introducing legislation next week for the use of special drug-dispensing machines to speed up the lines at pharmacies.
If the proposal goes through certain medications would be delivered to patients through a vending machine.

The machines have a video screen that allows patients to see and talk to a pharmacist from a remote location.

Patients will put their prescription slips into the machine, the machine will scan it and send the information to the pharmacist.

At that point the patient will pick up a phone and talk to the pharmacist. The pharmacist will make sure the prescription is safe and that it is appropriate. Once the pharmacist approves the transaction the pills will be dispensed from the machine.

Patients will then pay on site and only have to wait for five to 10 minutes while the machine fills their order.

Neala Barton, a spokesperson for David Caplan, told Digital Journal that the department is very confident that the new legislation will pass through Parliament.

“The machines are a really innovative way of increasing access for patients to be able to get their prescriptions in Ontario. It is also a way of introducing new technologies to the province and opening the doors for new businesses.”

The machines will have 320 of the most prescribed drugs stocked in them. There will be no narcotics stocked in the kiosks.

The dispensary is being market tested in Toronto and southwest Ontario. The machines were developed by PCA Services Inc. of Oakville, Ontario.

It is hoped that the machines will be widely available across Canada within the next year.

There are some concerns about the use of the machines. CBC reports:

“My main concern, because our mandate is really solely to protect the public, would be ensure all the safeguards and accountabilities are in place, and that we really are thoughtful about what we are doing to make sure that happens before anything goes to government in the form of regulations,” said Deanna Williams, registrar of the Ontario College of Pharmacists.

Many pharmacists are uncomfortable with losing face-to-face contact with patients.

“Someone could really come in stone drunk and alcohol coming off their breath and a pharmacist in a remote location would not catch that and would dispense the medicine anyways,” said Brendan Tannenbaum, a pharmacist in Toronto.

“So the number of medicines and which types of medicines hasn’t been determined, but I think there are some concerns.”

Sunnybrook Hospital was used as a trial run earlier this year. Dr. Sharon Domb, MD, CCFP was one of the doctors involved in the study. Dr. Domb talked to Digital Journal about the program about the positives that she saw during the trial run. Comparing the machine to an ATM in terms of technology Dr. Domb was very pleased with what the program offered her patients. While finding a pharmacy in Toronto open 24 hours may not be an issue for all in remoter areas it is. This is one area where the machines are very beneficial to patients.

“The machines are a great use of technology. It’s a way to get prescriptions quickly and easily. It is a local solution for time constraints and looking for a 24-hour pharmacy. While not everyone will go with the new technology it works well for those who will.”

Dr. Domb went to the factory where the machines are made prior to the trial run for a better understanding of the safe guards used with the devices. She stated because of all of the safeguards the machines are actually less likely to have medication mix-ups than the local drug store. Each box of pills is weighed, tagged and photographed before being placed in the machine. That information is compared again when a prescribe is tagged to be dispensed. If there are any issues the machine rejects the box and the medication is not delivered. The pharmacist that works with the machine also can reject a medication if there are any questions about dosage or health concerns.

“The machines are great for patients that have one or two medications to have filled. I wouldn’t use them if I had 10 different prescriptions to be filled but otherwise I think they are much faster and easier for patients.”

The machines will leave more time for pharmacists to do what they are best at, working one on one with patients. Pharmacists can take the time to answer questions and explain to patients what the medications that they are using do and what to be aware of.

The machines could change the way Canadians approach their local drug stores, understanding the need for the expert advice behind the counter and still be able to get their medicines quickly.

Dennis Darby, CEO, of the Ontario Pharmacist Association told Digital Journal that pharmacists support the new technology but do have some concerns that patients will rely on the kiosks instead of developing a relationship with their local pharmacist. That relationship is vital for the overall health of the patient.

If the legislation passes Mr. Darby says the College of Pharmacy will be in charge of the regulations for the program.

Mr. Darby noted that Ontario has over 3,000 drug stores. The more rural areas have a greater need for this type of service and that it “is better than nothing at all.”

The machines won’t be able to do many of the services that the pharmacist does, such as liquid medications and splitting pills, which is often needed for elderly patients.

Mr. Darby is very encouraged though with the government’s actions for health care. He believes when electronic health records are in place they will further enhance both this program and the pharmacy business in general.

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