TALLINN – Pharmacy chain Benu has begun testing an autonomous pharmacy vending station developed by the Estonian startup Grab2Go in the west-central Estonian county town Rapla.
Following the necessary regulatory changes, self-service pharmacies could address the problem of the shortage of 24-hour pharmacies, the companies said.
Mart Viilipus, CEO of Grab2Go, said that while Grab2Go technology enables sales, logistics and management of all kinds of basic necessities, entering the pharmaceutical and pharmacy market requires additional effort.
"It is not possible to sell medicines by means of a regular self-checkout, where the customer selects a product from the shelf, scans it or registers the purchase using other technology, and makes the payment," Viilipus said. "A high-quality pharmacy service requires advice, and in order to ensure a safe and high-quality pharmacy service for customers, a real pharmacist must be available via telebridge to advise the client," he added.
The robotic hardware solution developed by Grab2Go will issue the right product to the customer, while the software allows a pharmacist to provide the necessary advice via telebridge on a screen at the self-service pharmacy. In addition, the device has cameras that will additionally check that the product issued is the right one.
The first pharmacy self-service machine will start working Wednesday at the Benu pharmacy on the premises of Rapla Prisma. Benu franchise manager Rainer Kasevali admitted that, for the time being, the self-service machine will not improve the availability of medicines and pharmacy goods, because the Medicines Act does not provide for the possibility of such technical innovation. The self-service machine will be opened for the duration of the pilot project within the limits of current regulation.
"In addition to the fact that, due to current legislation, the pharmacy self-service machine must be located on the premises of our existing pharmacy, it can only operate during the opening hours of the real pharmacy. This is a time-limited pilot project, and if the relevant regulation does not catch up during this period, the station will have to be closed," Kasevali said.
Nor will prescription medicines be sold, as this, too, requires amending valid regulations.