The Prescription Medication Vending Machine

By Alexis C. Madrigal

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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.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/03/the-prescription-medication-vending-machine/72232/