At first glance, one might mistake it for an ATM. It's the same shape as one. It has a screen and keypad like one. It even dispenses like one.
However, instead of issuing a crisp $20 bill, it gives out drugs.
Over this past year, at least two regional hospitals have used this machine, called InstyMeds, to facilitate a faster medical response to their patients.
James C. Falcon/MDN - - Nikki Farr, admitting coordinator at Trinity Hospital, demonstrates the InstyMeds machine at the hospital. Since it was first installed in February, an estimated 2,100-plus prescriptions have been filled with the machine, according to Carolyn Mundahl, director of the hospital’s pharmacy.
Carolyn Mundahl, director of pharmacy services at Trinity Hospital, said InstyMeds was installed in February to help improve work flow and to provide service in an environment where the hospital's retail pharmacy is not operated 24 hours a day.
"We thought this was a good way to provide that pharmaceutical care," Mundahl said, noting that InstyMeds helps to keep patients satisfied, yet keep them moving through the ER.
The way InstyMeds works begins when a patient tells their provider they will be filling their prescription via the machine. The provider then gives the patient a code which is entered, along with the patient's birth date, into the InstyMeds machine. Instructions on the screen explain how to fill your prescription. As for payment, InstyMeds accepts credit and debit cards as well as cash. Insurance co-pays are paid through the machine, the same as if the patient were in a pharmacy.
Before InstyMeds came along, Trinity's pharmacy would fill the prescriptions as usual, Mundahl said, "but I guess we came to the point in time where we were doing so many of them, we didn't want to neglect our inpatient care as well, and we wanted to take advantage of InstyMeds."
At the end of September, Mercy Medical Center in Williston jumped on the InstyMeds bandwagon. Mark Ceglowski, the hospital's pharmacy director, noted the increase in population in the Williston area, coupled with the fact that Williston is without a 24/7 retail pharmacy, helped motivate the hospital into using InstyMeds.
The addition of InstyMeds at Mercy was "not to compete with local pharmacies, but to help our community," he said.
Before Instymeds was added at Mercy, Ceglowski said that patients would be taken care of as normal, but it was very time-consuming. They would give the patients enough medications to get by until they were able to fulfill the full prescription from a retail pharmacy.
InstyMeds has also been tailored to specific emergency medications, Ceglowski said. For example, patients who are on long-term medication for diabetes or heart ailments would be given what he called "maintenance medication" enough to sustain them until the hospital or area pharmacy could accommodate them, Ceglowski explained.
"We're still in the process of deciding how to fill all of them," he added. "Sixty-five percent of them have been sold. We don't want the medications to be in there and not used. We check with the company and they give us the recommendation on what most emergency departments would use. We also talked to our practitioners and got advice from them as well."
Both Trinity and Mercy have reported that InstyMeds has been well received at their respective locations.
Mundahl said that, at Trinity, the machine has been well received within the ER, and has garnered a positive response from the patients. Since February, Mundahl said that more than 2,100 prescriptions have been filled with InstyMeds.
"It's been well received by most practitioners," Ceglowski said, noting that there are still some issues that have seen resistance. There was some apprehension about using the machine, he said, as well as worries from practitioners that "we might not have all the drugs they want."
"That's part of the learning process in it," he said "incorporating the right drugs in there."
But overall, the system has received compliments from both patients and providers, and the service has been well received. He estimated that some 300 to 400 patients have used Insty-Meds since it was added at the end of September.
"We should see that number continue to increase as people get more comfortable using it," he said.