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Medicine from vending machines? One company hopes to roll out 50 dispensers in Singapore this year

SmartRx, the firm that developed the machines, has installed five so far, including one that dispenses medicine requiring a doctor’s prescription.

Medicine from vending machines? One company hopes to roll out 50 dispensers in Singapore this year

A vending machine that dispenses over-the-counter medicine and first-aid items at Block 536 Serangoon North Avenue 4. (Photo: SmartRx)

SINGAPORE: While vending machines are a common sight at HDB void decks, the one at Block 536 Serangoon North Avenue 4 is slightly different from the others.

Where there are usually drinks or snacks, this vending machine dispenses medicines such as paracetamol and hydrocortisone cream as well as first-aid items.

Installed in June last year, the vending machine – which was jointly launched by its developer SmartRx and Essentials Pharmacy – serves residents in the area around the clock, providing medicines for mild and common ailments for adults and children.

When CNA checked it out last Tuesday (May 9), it had nearly 70 different types of pharmaceutical products listed on its digital catalogue, out of which two were sold out – lozenges and pills for diarrhoea relief.

All medicines were over-the-counter drugs, which means they do not require a doctor's prescription.

The machine carries nearly 70 different types of pharmaceutical products ranging from cold and flu relief to medical plasters. (Photo: CNA/Vanessa Lim)

Prices were comparable to other retail pharmacies such as Watsons and Guardian. In some cases, the products sold at the vending machine were slightly lower.

For instance, a box of 12 Panadol Cold Relief caplets was priced at S$10.60 (US$7.90). This is cheaper than Guardian, which carries the same product at S$11.

While this reporter did not see anyone using the vending machine when she was there, Essentials Pharmacy’s general manager Simone Tan said there are five to 10 transactions a day on average.

This increases during flu season, she said, adding that the machine is restocked one to two times a week.

Besides dispensing medicines round the clock, the machine is also equipped with a teleconsultation feature for users to consult pharmacists, and get information on which medicine to purchase and how to use it correctly.

However, this feature is temporarily unavailable due to manpower constraints, the company said.

SmartRx, the developer of the machines, told CNA it plans to roll out 50 units by the end of the year, with some to be installed in locations such as supermarkets, petrol stations and ActiveSG centres.

So far, it has installed five vending machines across Singapore for different purposes. 

For instance, at Singapore Chung Hwa Medical Institution's headquarters in Toa Payoh, the vending machine dispenses traditional Chinese medicines. Another at the National Dental Centre Singapore offers dental-related products such as toothbrushes, dental floss and mouthwash.

In March, the company partnered healthcare group Minmed to launch a telemedicine clinic at the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) that is equipped with a dispensing machine where users can collect prescribed drugs.

A telemedicine clinic at the Singapore University of Technology and Design. Users can teleconsult doctors in a private pod and get prescription drugs from the vending machine. (Photo: SmartRx)


According to the Health Sciences Authority, vending machines that supply General Sale List medicines – those that do not require a prescription – do not need a licence.

As for those that dispense drugs that require a prescription or can only be obtained through a pharmacist or licensed retail pharmacy, these are subjected to licensing.

SmartRx’s managing director Tong Ping Heng said its vending machines only dispense prescription drugs after users have consulted a doctor.

For instance, the telemedicine clinic at SUTD comes with a private pod that can measure patients’ vitals. Patients will only receive a prescription after they undergo a remote consultation with a Minmed doctor via its app.

To prevent abuse, SmartRx's system also stores information on what users have been prescribed and the type of drugs purchased.

“From there, you can know if this person is a habitual purchaser of – for instance – cough syrup with codeine,” he said. “A lot of this depends on the pharmacist and the doctor in their consultation but from our back-end, we can support them by (sharing the user’s) purchase history," Mr Tong said.

“We hope that if we can build (and install) more vending machines like what we see with ATMs, we can make it more convenient and reduce the crowding in pharmacies.”

Source: CNA/vl(cy)


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