A local company’s automated pharmacy kiosk could revolutionize the way pharmacies operate, cutting wait times and hospital recidivism along the way. Medifriendrx is collaborating with the Urban Inter-Tribal Center of Texas to help American Indian populations access their medicine without overworking a limited staff.
The UITCT is a nonprofit with decades of experience meeting the medical needs of more than 76,000 American Indians/Alaska Natives in an 11 county area in North Texas. The clinic offers primary care, dental, pharmacy, behavioral health, employment services for members of the federally-recognized tribes. But the clinic’s ability to dispense medicine depended on the lone pharmacist being onsite. At times, the clinic had to close the pharmacy to accommodate the pharmacist’s sick days, vacation, and training.
A closed pharmacy could mean a patient has to make a second trip to the clinic, which adds to the burden of a patient population who are mostly low-income, uninsured, and often come from far away. As tribe members, they receive care free from the clinic, but with one pharmacist often on the phone and preparing medications, wait times could often be 30 minutes to pick up a drug refill. COVID-19 provided further motivation to reduce interaction and waiting times in the clinic, which were often prolonged due to the small staff. Most importantly, delays and added trips or costs incurred at other pharmacies could deter proper treatment, resulting in prolonged illness and increased severity.
Enter medifriendRx. The company was founded in California and built onsite pharmacies for clinics in isolated areas to increase medication adherence. The business grew into consultation and eventually developed a kiosk that could dispense medicine at all hours, and was contacted by the UICTC office for help with alleviating the backlog and providing relief to the pharmacist.
The kiosk works best for patients who need refills or have uncomplicated medications. Many of the patients at UICTC are coming in for refills, and the secure kiosk can triple-check their identity and dispense medicines in a few minutes. The clinic fills the kiosk based on the most common prescriptions and scheduled refills. It also allows for a video consult about the medication, should the patient request one. The pharmacist is then freed up to deal with new patients and take time off without the fear or stress of knowing patients might not get their medicine.
“Long lines and waiting periods are no longer an issue,” says UICTC CEO Omer Tamir. “It has essentially eliminated the need to close our pharmacy for uncontrollable circumstances when our pharmacist is not on duty, thus eliminating those extra hardships that come with the closures.”
The clinics are addressing a need in an especially vulnerable population. American Indians and Alaska Natives have a life expectancy of 5.5 years less than the overall population (73 to 78.5 years, respectively). They die at higher rates of chronic liver disease, diabetes, and chronic lower respiratory diseases. More than a quarter of American Indians live in poverty, more significant than any other ethnic group, so taking advantage of the free care and pharmacy of the tribal clinics has become even more critical.
The technology has become essential to the Dallas clinic and is poised to expand within the tribal clinics and elsewhere. Indian Health Services has shown interest in IUTCT’s kiosk and will be visiting the clinic to learn more about how it has impacted clinic flow, satisfaction, and wait times. Medifriend is also in contact with hospital and university systems to expand their services.
Medifriend helped the clinic organize their workflow and install the pharmacy kiosk installing software to notify patients when their prescriptions were ready rather than clogging up the phone lines. CEO and co-founder Max Iantorno sees their future in helping clinics that are too small to afford their own pharmacy. The kiosk allows for a low-cost and convenient way to get medicine in the hands of patients, improving outcomes along the way.
Iantorno says the program is so successful that he has eliminated the need for his consulting services. “It’s running smooth, and they’re managing it on their own,” he says. “There’s not as much need for me.”