Telepharmacy vs. Kiosk Pharmacy

Mitch Larson

You may recall reading another article of ours in which we clarify the differences between telepharmacy and internet pharmacy. Well, since that article went on to be a viral sensation (just kidding), we decided to look at the difference between telepharmacy and another new pharmacy practice that is becoming more common - kiosk pharmacies.

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The practices of telepharmacy and kiosk pharmacy do share some similarities in regards to their reliance on technology and remote communication with pharmacists, but the two are overall quite different. Let’s take a closer look at how each one works, the pros they present, and the potential problems they pose.

First, let’s dissect the kiosk pharmacy model:

Typically when one thinks of a kiosk, visions of in-your-face salesmen in the middle of the shopping mall trying to get you to purchase overpriced de-aging facial ointment come to mind. Fortunately, that’s not what a kiosk pharmacy is.

If you haven’t seen one before, just imagine a vending machine for prescriptions. Okay that’s downplaying it a bit - it’s a highly secure, and technologically advanced vending machine that is only accessible after entering your prescription information... but for simplicity’s sake, it’s like a vending machine.

The process:

How kiosks work is fairly simple, and doesn’t involve being derailed from your beeline to Eddie Bauer’s 50% off sale (which somehow seems to always be going on). Here’s how it actually works:

  1. Patients come up to the machine and tap the screen, which initiates a video call with a pharmacist.
  2. The patient inserts their prescription into a slot where it’s scanned, allowing the pharmacist to review it and conduct a consultation.
  3. After consulting, the patient signs the screen, and the pharmacist instructs the kiosk to fill the prescription.
  4. The kiosk labels the bottle and prints instructions, and this is dispensed to the patient through a small door in the kiosk.
The pros:

There are many pros to the kiosk model, especially for specific settings such as an emergency room, a college campus, or specialty clinics. Pros include:

  • Convenience for patients to pick up medications at their point of care
  • Real-time audio-visual connection with a human pharmacist
  • Ability for the clinic and the kiosk-operating pharmacy to work together to stock the common but specific medications needed by patients of the clinic
  • Expansion of pharmacy services to new locations with lower operating costs.

Kiosks are located within clinics or grocery stores, and are never a standalone fully fledged or fully staffed retail pharmacy. This allows operating costs to remain low for the pharmacies managing the machines. It also allows pharmacists to serve a more specific demographic, for instance in a specialty clinic setting where a majority of the patients are in need of just a handful of medications.

The problems:

The concerns commonly raised regarding the delivery of pharmacy services through the kiosk model typically pertain to:

  • The security of the machines and potential increased risk of theft.
  • Lack of in-person human interaction, leading to possible errors or at least an impersonal/less pleasant patient experience.
  • Limited assistance when payment/insurance issues arise for patients.
  • Limited inventory leading to difficulty obtaining the first fill if the necessary medications are not in stock.

In general, these 2,000-lb machines are secure, difficult to break into, and by law must be in sight of surveillance cameras. There may be times when customers encounter insurance or payment issues, or they may find that the medication they are needing to get filled is not in stock in the machine. These instances may require a trip to the host pharmacy, which diminishes the purpose of the kiosks.

Next, let’s explore the telepharmacy model:

You know when you leave the shopping mall with its pesky kiosks and overwhelming box stores, and on the way back home you drive by the cute boutique shop in your neighborhood where they always know your name and greet you with a hearty smile? Well telepharmacy is like that shop.

The process:

If you’ve read any of our materials on our blog or around our website, by now you are probably all pros at how telepharmacy works. However, some of you may be getting your first introduction to the practice, so here goes:

  1. Telepharmacies are brick-and-mortar pharmacy locations often located in urban and rural underserved areas. While some are inside clinics, many operate as standalone retail locations, having a presence in their community as not only a place to get prescriptions, but many other front-end and over-the-counter products as well.
  2. Prescriptions are sent to the telepharmacy, and patients come to the location to pick them up.
  3. They are greeted and helped by a pharmacy technician who fills the prescription, taking images of the process, and then sends them in real-time to the pharmacist located at the host pharmacy location for verification.
  4. The pharmacist counsels the patient over a private and secure video call.
  5. After consultation, the technician completes the transaction with the patient and they are on their way.
The pros:

There are many pros to the telepharmacy model, but just to name a few:

  • Allows pharmacists to open low-volume, small-footprint pharmacies in areas that can’t sustain a traditional pharmacy.
  • In clinic/hospital settings, allows on-site pharmacists to focus on more clinical tasks while remote pharmacists perform the verification process.
  • Provides convenient access to medications and pharmacy services for patients in underserved areas.
  • Allows struggling pharmacies to stay open in low-volume locations by converting to telepharmacy to share the cost of a pharmacist across locations.
  • Keeps the local pharmacist a central pillar in the pharmacy process and retains the human interaction in the pharmacy setting.

Telepharmacy is a great option for pharmacists looking to expand their business and serve more patients without incurring the prohibitive costs that can be associated with operating traditional pharmacies. With telepharmacy, pharmacists can provide jobs, increase prescription volumes, keep their business financially strong, and of course benefit patients in need of their services.

The problems:

Telepharmacy has received, and continues to receive, skepticism regarding its overall safety. The skeptics worry that removing the pharmacist from the physical location where prescription filling and dispensing is taking place leads to errors and diversion. Since its earliest and most primitive incarnations, telepharmacy has proven not only safe, but actually more safe than the traditional pharmacy practice.

Today, telepharmacy is a widespread practice that benefits pharmacists and patients across the country, and the problems around it have been debunked time and time again given its long history (almost 20 years) and large sample size (now permitted in 23 states).

telepharmacy ebook


Let’s recap the similarities between the two practices:

  • Both rely heavily on technology and telecommunication to deliver the service of medication dispensing and pharmacist counseling.
  • Both allow pharmacies to expand their business by providing a lower-cost avenue to provide pharmacy services to smaller demographics.
  • Both provide increased convenience for the patients they aim to serve.
  • Neither of them require fighting for parking spots closest to Dillard’s, wading through hoards of shoppers, or settling for a lunch of overpriced, inauthentic Chinese food from the food court.

The main point of differentiation between the two, however, is in the duration of their track records. Telepharmacy has been around for a long time, and there are hundreds of telepharmacies operating across the country today providing convenient access for patients, helping pharmacy businesses remain financially strong, and allowing pharmacists to focus on clinical tasks and patient outcomes. Kiosks are a newer practice that hasn’t yet been widely utilized and proven at this point.

Both are disrupting the industry and providing great opportunities for pharmacies and pharmacists today that are looking to innovate and find ways to stay afloat. As pharmacists, it is always good to stay abreast of new innovations and practices that may help you provide better care and keep your pharmacy practice going strong. Perhaps one of these practices will be the next innovation that you implement for your pharmacy.

Want to learn more about telepharmacy and how it works? Click below:

retail telepharmacy


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