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Health News Florida

Bill Would Allow Vending Machines for Prescription Drugs

an RX-to-go kiosk in Jacksonville Memorial Hospital
Jacksonville Memorial Hospital recently started offering prescription drugs through an RX-to-go kiosk in its emergency room. Lindsey Kilbride/WJCT

Patients would get expanded access to prescription drugs under a bill in the Legislature that allows pharmacies to operate medication-dispensing kiosks.

The automated pharmacy systems would operate like vending machines for prescription drugs. The machines wouldn't have to be located at a pharmacy so they could be placed in areas where access to medications is limited. And the kiosks could operate 24-hours a day, 7 days a week, according to HB 59 sponsor, Rep. Matt Willhite, a Palm Beach Democrat.

Pharmacists should welcome the automation and expanded access, said Kevin Sneed, dean of the Taneja College of Pharmacy at the University of South Florida. But it shouldn’t come at the expense of the patient-pharmacist interaction. Sneed warned the bill should contain a requirement that patients who use the kiosks first speak with a pharmacist.

“We're not talking about dispensing Coca-Cola here,” Sneed said. “We're talking about medication, a chemical that a person is going to take allegedly for a health care.… So there needs to be some education, monitoring and counseling that goes along with that.” 

In most cases, the kiosks could facilitate those conversations, through a video chat. And the bill includes language that the systems must be operated under the supervision and control of a pharmacist who is available to counsel patients before medication is dispensed.

Sneed said requiring the interaction would ensure that patients are using their medications correctly.

“I think the counseling component of what you get right now is such a heavy component of medication adherence and compliance,” he said. “Right now if you walk into a pharmacy, you have a pharmacist right there who can answer any question that you might have.”

State law already allows the use of similar systems by correctional institutions, hospices and long-term care facilities. And recently, the Florida Board of Pharmacy has allowed drug dispensing machines to be used in hospitals in Jacksonville and Miami.

Members of a health care committee, who reviewed the bill in November included a provision to keep controlled substances from being sold in the machines.

A companion bill (SB 708) was filed in the Senate. The 2020 legislative session begins on Jan. 14.