TRICARE is exploring ATM-like pill dispensing machines

TRICARE is exploring ATM-like pill dispensing machines

The machines can dispense medication in about 90 seconds. (Photo courtesy of Express Scripts)

Picking up a prescription could soon be as easy as making a withdrawal from an ATM.

The Defense Health Agency's TRICARE division is exploring machines developed by MedAvail that could dispense prescription medication. The company is piloting several machines, and military health officials say they are monitoring their progress.

TRICARE serves about 9.4 million beneficiaries, including about 5.4 million retirees and their family members.

“It could be a game-changer,” said Kathy Beasley, director of health affairs for the Military Officers Association of America and a retired captain in the Navy. “It's worth trying.”

MOAA Visits TRICARE's Pharmacy Contractor

Here are the highlights on this emerging technology:

Question: How do these machines work?

Answer: MedCenter machines are self-service, pharmacist-supported, kiosk pharmacies. The machines were developed by MedAvail, a healthcare technology company that works with Express Scripts. TRICARE members use Express Scripts to obtain their medications.

Q: When could TRICARE members use the machines?

A: Machine use is in the pilot-testing phase, so it could be a long time. The Defense Health Agency wants to ensure the machines are safe, fast and accurate for its users.

Q: Will it safeguard my personal information?

A: The machines safely and securely dispense medication in about 90 seconds. They accept handwritten and electronic prescriptions.

Q: What if I have questions when picking up a prescription?

A: The machines are supported by a multilingual pharmacist service 24/7 through a private audio-visual communication system built into the machine. The licensed pharmacists review your medical history, allergy concerns, potential interactions with other drugs and patient counseling.

Q: What types of medications are available?

A: MedCenter dispenses chronic, acute and over-the-counter medications under the supervision of licensed pharmacists. Some examples are medications for cholesterol, antibiotics and acid reflux.

Q: What types of medications aren't available?

A: The MedCenter machines would not carry any controlled substance and any medication that requires refrigeration or special handling. Some examples are methadone, Demerol, OxyContin, morphine, codeine and Adderall.

Q: Are these machines already used in the U.S.?

A: Yes. There are six pilot MedCenter machines being tested in Phoenix and Tucson, with plans to expand to 15 by the end of the year. Illinois is next on the list for expansion.

Amanda Dolasinski is MOAA's staff writer. She can be reached at amandad@moaa.org. Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMOAA.