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Center uses state's first automated drug dispenser

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

Patients who come to the Spivey Station Surgery Center in Jonesboro have no need to worry about finding a pharmacy after their surgery is completed.

Through Spivey Station's InstyMeds Prescription Medication Dispenser, patients can receive pain killers, antibiotics and other post-surgery medications before they ever leave the center.

Since its grand opening in May, Spivey Station has been using the dispenser, a fully automated, ATM-style machine that allows patients to pay for, and receive, prescriptions immediately after surgery. According to Spivey Station Administrator Melody Mena, the center is the only medical facility in Georgia that currently has the time-saving device.

"We wanted our patients to have everything they need when they go home, instead of this waiting game that usually goes on," she said. "This new system eliminates the need for patients to stop and wait at a pharmacy following surgery, when they're in pain and not feeling well. InstyMeds helps them get back on the road to recovery as soon as possible."

According to Mena, the InstyMeds dispenser is stocked, much like a vending machine, with a variety of common, post-surgery medications, including pain killers, antibiotics, and anti-inflammatory drugs. Through the use of an online system, a doctor can print a prescription for a patient with a unique code, which is then entered into the medication dispenser by the physician. The patient can then pay for the medicine using a credit or debit card.

After the medicine has been paid for, the exact dosage is dispensed to the patient in a shrink-wrapped bottle. The physician then explains the possible side-effects and drug interactions associated with the medicine before the patient leaves the center.

According to Mena, the whole process takes about 90 seconds from start to finish. "We've been using it for five months," she said. "It's something that our patients are finding as an added value of coming to the center. We charge the same rates as any Walgreens or CVS, and we run it through health insurance, just like any other pharmacy ..."

Angie Cochran, a registered nurse at the Spivey Station Surgery Center, said that many patients are sore and groggy from anesthesia following surgery. She said the InstyMeds dispenser prevents situations in which post-surgery patients are left alone while their loved one fills their prescriptions. "For the physician, it's basically the same amount of work," Cochran said. "The benefit is actually for the patients. For someone to have to sit in the car while their loved one takes care of the prescription, it's just inconvenient."

Cochran said the InstyMeds dispenser also "adds to the continuity of care," because physicians are able to directly converse with patients about any concerns they may have about their medication.

Mena said the entire process, from filling prescriptions to restocking the machine, is monitored 24 hours a day by a system of web cameras. With the use of an integrated phone system, on-call pharmacists can interact with patients or physicians any time a transaction is taking place.

"It's not like a candy machine," said Mena. "The people across the street can't come here and get refills on their heart medication. It's for people who we have been operated on. Our physicians are the ones dispensing the medications."

She said the InstyMeds dispenser is popular in medical facilities in Northern and Midwestern states, and she believes the machine will soon be seen in more facilities in the Southeast. She said the dispenser may benefit rural communities, where 24-hour pharmacies are not readily available.

"People get out of surgery, and they have to drive 30 or 40 minutes to the nearest 24-hour pharmacy," she said. "If you are sick in the middle of the night, that's a big convenience factor. This is improving access to the medicine that a patient needs to get better, quicker."