The Prescription Medication Vending Machine

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When I got sick last month, I didn't have a regular doctor to call up, so I ended up at a walk-in clinic near DuPont Circle along with a lot of people in khakis talking on their cell phones in the waiting room.

This machine, an InstyMeds Prescription Medication Dispenser, sat with us underneath the pleasant hum and hue of the fluorescent lights. At first, it seemed like a practical joke -- a vending machine for meds? -- but medical clinics are not exactly a place to look for chuckles. Excuse the shaky picture; I was febrile.

Sadly, my prescription for antibiotics was the standard pharmacy kind, so I didn't get to try out the vending machine. (But I did buy some pretzels the next day at the office and ate them twice during the day with water.)

In any case, when I got home, I looked up InstyMeds (InstyMeds!) and it turns out to be a real company. They describe their machine as having "the safety and security of an ATM with the simplicity of a soda machine!" Each one contains about 60 commonly prescribed medicines.

Headquartered in Minneapolis, MN, the majority of InstyMeds' 200 vending machines are located in that state and Wisconsin. In 2010, those dispensers, which are leased to doctors' offices, dispensed 1.1 million prescriptions. Specialized software allows docs to write prescriptions for patients to use in the vending machines.

The vending machines went into the market in 2002 and have been slowly growing since. As far as I can tell, InstyMeds is the only vending machine physicians can use to dispense drugs.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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