Debate this: Do prescription drug kiosks belong in the marketplace?

June 8, 2012 | by Cherryh A. Butler

Americans may one day be able to visit a kiosk for prescription medications instead of relying solely on a doctor. Although it may sound farfetched, it's no longer only a "what-if" scenario. In fact, the FDA held a two-day hearing in March, where it heard from a variety of stakeholders on the public health implications of such a decision.

Doctors, pharmacists, researchers and educators debated nearly every issues associated with the development, deployment and adoption of prescription drug kiosks. Specifically, stakeholders gave opinions on who should cover the cost of the kiosks, if kiosks would save on or add to health care costs, how to ensure that Americans safely diagnose themselves using the kiosks, how to regulate the dispensing of the medication and how to bill patients.

Despite a lot of discussion, none of those questions ended with black-and-white answers. The hearing was basically the first step in a long process, said Yolanda A. Fultz-Morris of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Its purpose was to learn the best ways to implement a prescription drug kiosk program "under conditions of safe use intended to ensure appropriate use by consumers, and the potential benefits and costs of this type of approach," she said. "FDA is reviewing testimony from the hearing and comments submitted to the public docket for the hearing to inform its decision-making on whether or how to implement conditions of safe use approach to making drugs available without a prescription. Stakeholder input is vital to this process and FDA."

The FDA would not say what the next step in the process is or if there were a timeline in place, so it's anyone's guess as to how long it could take before the government has a handle on the issue. One thing is certain, however: The kiosk industry supports the idea, saying that the technology would help reduce health care costs and make it easier for a wide range of consumers to receive medical services.

"This is a very good use of a kiosk design," according to Ron Bowers, SVP, Business Development, for Frank Mayer & Associates.

"For this specific conundrum as to the specific health safety issues of some very specific, consumer drug categories, I leave that to the FDA and their due diligence," he said. "However, to the ability to bring consumers improved patient access to healthful care, reduce the burdens of an overburdened health care system and to reduce Health care costs, this is a solution that is going to have a very positive impact on the consumer experience."

A prescription drug kiosk could be another way to bring a solid health care experience to the masses, said Bart Foster, CEO of SoloHealth, a company that this week earned FDA approval for its next-generation SoloHealth Station, an interactive, comprehensive health and wellness screening kiosk for consumers.

"We support anything that can be done to streamline health care costs or anything that empowers consumers to take care of themselves," he said. "We have to find ways to reduce health care costs."

Foster sees the kiosks as an extension of medical triage. For example, just as people with colds don't need to go to the ER, they might now visit a kiosk in a pharmacy instead of a doctor's office.

"I think the FDA is recognizing that technology can play a role and educate consumers about products," he said.

What do you think? How can the FDA regulate such a complicated issue? Who should fund the kiosks, and how can the FDA ensure consumers follow safe practices when diagnosing themselves? What kinds of design elements must be present for such a kiosk to function as needed? Leave your comments below.

Read more about self-service in the health care industry.

Topics: Healthcare / Hospitals

Cherryh A. Butler / Cherryh Butler has been a reporter for nearly 10 years, writing on a variety of topics ranging from the restaurant industry to business and health and fitness news. Before joining as editor, she oversaw and and contributed to She's also written for several daily newspapers, magazines and websites, including The Kansas City Star and American Fitness magazine.
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