`The Prozac Machine Ate My Money'

MANY RURAL CLINICS AND most hospitals maintain their own in-house pharmacies, requiring the services of a pharmacist and taking up valuable floor space. ADDS Inc. in North Billerica, Mass., has developed a cheaper alternative: a medicine-vending machine.

The ADDS "telepharmacy" incorporates a computer, bar-code reader, printer, and dispensing cabinet. That allows a doctor at, say, a rural clinic, to fax a prescription to an off-site pharmacy, where the pharmacist transmits the drug order via modem to the clinic's remote-controlled dispenser. The machine dispenses a prepackaged vial and, to ensure that the right medicine came out, a clinic worker scans the drug's bar code for prescription information and expiration date.

The dispensers typically stock 30 to 60 types of commonly prescribed drugs. ADDS President Brian Hart says a clinic need order only 25 prescriptions a day for the units to be economical, compared with some 150 prescriptions for an in-house pharmacy. The devices are already in use in Utah, Wisconsin, and Michigan.

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