Automated pharmacy kiosk dispenses prescriptions like an ATM

April 20th, 2017


Erick Johnson, UCHealth pharmacy supervisor, is pictured.
Erik Johnson, UCHealth pharmacy supervisor, with the new ScriptCenter in the lobby of UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital’s Anschutz Inpatient Pavilion lobby.

Think of it as an ATM for prescription drugs.

UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital’s ScriptCenter MX automated pharmacy kiosk in the Anschutz Inpatient Pavilion lobby dispensed its first prescriptions on April 12. While not intended to replace one-on-one consultations with the pharmacists at the Atrium Pharmacy right around the corner, the hospital’s pharmacy leaders see it as a way to improve customer care during busy times and allow for prescription pickup when the pharmacy itself is closed.

The team has two sorts of customers in mind, said Erik Johnson, PharmD, the UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital (UCH) pharmacy supervisor who helped lead the ScriptCenter effort. First are hospital faculty and employees who fill their prescriptions at the UCH pharmacies.

The second group includes inpatients of all sorts, but with a focus on those discharged after the Atrium Pharmacy closes for the day (at 8:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and at 5 p.m. on weekends and holidays). In addition, ScriptCenter will be stocked with common over-the-counter items including ibuprofen, antacids, and tampons that anyone can access at any time.

Inpatients being discharged during off hours can receive a claim check for their prescription before departure. They can then go to the ScriptCenter kiosk, enter a code, sign on the screen, pay with credit card/debit card/flexible spending account (FSA) card, and receive their medications like cash from an ATM or chips from a snack dispenser. If the patient has a question about the medication – or if there’s a need for a pharmacist consultation regarding the drug – the patient can dial a number posted on the machine or pick up the phone next to the machine to talk to a pharmacist in the Emergency Department at any time.

A ScriptCenter, similar in concept to an ATM but for prescriptions, is shown.
The UCHealth Pharmacy and Marketing teams came up with some color to enliven the new hardware.

Employees who use the system regularly can establish a user ID that’s exceptionally easy to access: a fingerprint. Otherwise, it’s the same approach. Once set up, ScriptCenter encounters take about two minutes, Johnson said.

ScriptCenter, made by San Diego, Calif.-based Asteres, Inc., is a bit more complex than a snack machine. Foremost, it embodies the Atrium Pharmacy’s safeguards audit trails. It’s integrated with UCHealth’s pharmacy software as well as the health system’s Epic electronic health record – and, by extension, MyHealth Connection, Johnson said. UCHealth’s information technology, security and even marketing teams (the big stickers brightening up the otherwise gray monolith are not standard equipment) helped lay the groundwork. UCH pharmacists trained on how to load and, if someone fails to pick up their medications or they expire, unload it.

A ScriptCenter machine is shown.
The ScriptCenter machine in the AIP lobby. It’s across from the gift shop, a few steps from elevator D.

The loading will happen every morning, Johnson said, making the system best suited for prescriptions ordered the prior day. ScriptCenter sends out a notification to patients (via text or email, depending on preference) when the drug is ready for pickup. The machine can hold about 300 prescriptions, Johnson said, including larger boxes and jugs, which are stored in lockers on the right side of the machine. The only medications ScriptCenter will not dispense are those that require refrigeration, he said. The manufacturer, however, is working on insulated lockers to allow refrigerated items in the near future, Johnson said.

In general, the automated pharmacy kiosk should fill a need and benefit UCHealth patients, Johnson said.

“I’m excited about it. I think it’s not necessarily something for everybody, and we’re not going to try to make it for everybody,” he said. “But if you’re working third shift, if you’re a late discharge – it doesn’t matter when you’re leaving, you’re ready to go.”




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About the author

Since 2008, Todd Neff has written hundreds of stories for University of Colorado Hospital and UCHealth. He covered science and the environment for the Daily Camera in Boulder, Colorado, and has taught narrative nonfiction at the University of Colorado. He was a 2007-2008 Ted Scripps Fellowship recipient in Environmental Journalism at CU.

His latest book, "The Laser That’s Changing the World," tells the story of the inventors and innovators who saw, and ultimately realized, the potential of lidar to help solve problems ranging from smokestack-pollution detection, ice-sheet mapping, disaster recovery, and, ultimately, autonomous-vehicle guidance, among many other uses. His first book, "From Jars to the Stars," recounts how Ball Aerospace evolved from an Indiana jar company - and a group of students in a University of Colorado basement - to an organization that managed to blast a sizable crater in the comet 9P/Tempel 1. "Jars" won the Colorado Book Award for History in 2012.

Todd graduated with a business degree from the University of Michigan, where he played soccer, and with a master’s degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. Before becoming a journalist at the turn of the millennium, he was an IT and strategy consultant. He once spoke fluent Japanese and still speaks fluent German.

When not writing, he spends time with teenage daughters and wife Carol, plays soccer, and allows himself to be bullied by a puggle he outweighs by a factor of seven.