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Are Prescription Drug Vending Machines Coming To A Mall Near You?

How much of medical care will be automated in the future? How much of medical care will be automated in the future?

 

A trip to the mall may score you some new clothes, DVDs, shoes, or perhaps a haircut and manicure. But what if, while munching on that Cinnabon or soft pretzel, you could also pick up your cholesterol medication from the vending machine nearby? If the FDA has its way, their "Patient Kiosks" will be popping up in public places around the country, allowing individuals to purchase prescription medications without ever visiting a doctor or pharmacy.


Proponents of these drug vending machines argue that allowing people to get their medications without seeing a doctor will provide much-needed medications to uninsured and low-income people who would otherwise go without, and also lower insurance costs by decreasing the number of doctor visits that companies have to cover. For people who are responsible about their health care and medications, the Kiosks could save an arbitrary trip to the doctor just to obtain a refill on an already-used drug.

However, FDA Patient Kiosks are not just for refills, which can typically be obtained --for anything other than high-level controlled substances, which will also not be available in the kiosks (so don't get too excited)-- by asking your pharmacy to contact your doctor. We are expected to visit our doctor on a regular basis because that is the best thing for us; studies have shown that preventative visits are the best way to stay healthy and diagnose possible health issues early.

Aside from basic issues of safety, opponents of patient kiosks also argue that an overmedicated society is unhealthy because it conditions us to look only at quick fixes to our health problems, like taking a pill to lower our cholesterol or blood pressure when perhaps diet and exercise would be sufficient, and would improve overall condition as well.


At the FDA Patient Kiosks, patients will answer some health-related questions, after which they receive diagnoses and care recommendations, plus the medications recommended for treatment, like WebMD with a built-in pharmacy. This, opponents of the Kiosks argue, is not a suitable replacement for visiting the doctor, and could cause a variety of negative responses from increased side effects and unanticipated drug interactions to improper diagnoses. A machine cannot possibly take the place of a licensed physician.

According to a recent study by Kaiser Permanente, the average American takes 11 different prescription medications, which may each have more than 70 possible side effects. Some side effects can be very harmful or life threatening, and are typically even more harmful when patients mix medications without knowing their possible interactions. The safest way to obtain prescription medications is to visit one primary care physician and one pharmacy whenever possible, especially if you take a large variety of medications. Your doctor and pharmacist can ensure that you are not going to have a bad reaction to your medications, and can recommend other options when appropriate.

Aside from basic issues of safety, opponents of patient kiosks also argue that an overmedicated society is unhealthy because it conditions us to look only at quick fixes to our health problems, like taking a pill to lower our cholesterol or blood pressure when perhaps diet and exercise would be sufficient, and would improve overall condition as well. The fact that the average American takes 11 different medications is startling, and seniors, who take more than 30 apiece, were not even included in those statistics. Perhaps we are living in what is known as a polypharmic culture, where people rely heavily on drugs and take a variety of them. Many argue that adding drug vending machines to our malls will send us further down that slope, especially when so many of us are overweight and using medications to counteract the side effects of obesity rather than getting healthy.

While medications can be life saving and immensely helpful when used appropriately, the human body in proper condition was made to regulate itself in many ways that we now expect medications to, and our pharmaceutical industry is booming. Doctors already face pharmaceutical representatives who encourage them to prescribe certain medications to their patients, and commercials for prescription drugs fill our airwaves. Opponents of Patient Kiosks feel that removing the "middle man" (your doctor) in this case is not a good thing because doctors are important in regulating their patients' medications. When we can pick up our prescriptions where we buy everything else, it commercializes health even more.

Time will only tell whether these Patient Kiosks will start popping up in malls across America, but the FDA recently held public hearings to discuss the possibility.

What do you think? Sound off in the comments section.

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Soon, machines like these could be available in malls and other public places, reducing reliance on pharmacists.
Last modified on Monday, 25 June 2012 13:38

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