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Sushi, Pharmacy, and Vending Machines

Harold E. Cohen, RPh
Editor-in-Chief



8/19/2011

US Pharm. 2011;36(8):4. 

What do sushi, pharmacy, and vending machines have in common? Well, quite a lot actually. Last month Duane Reade, a popular drug-store chain in New York City owned by Walgreens, announced that it was opening its largest new store on Wall Street. According to an article in a New York Times blog (July 5th), the new store is “the most exciting drugstore in the world.” The new Wall Street location features a grocery market with sushi and smoothie bars, a hair salon for shampoos, blow-dries and blowouts, and a nail bar for manicures and massages. This follows on the heels of a beer bar in another Duane Reade store.  

When I first heard about the beer bar, I was surprised. When I heard of the sushi bar, hair salon, and nail bar, I was appalled. Then I started rationalizing that while it might be a stretch, a beer bar in a pharmacy could be thought of as a modern-day soda fountain, which was a fixture in many original retail pharmacies decades ago. But I had a more difficult time coming to terms with eating sushi and having your hair and nails done in a pharmacy. After giving it some thought, I asked myself, “Would people come into the store for these services if it did not have a pharmacy to attract them?” 

In today's anemic economy, why go through the expense of hiring pharmacists, technicians, and other pharmacy personnel and maintaining expensive inventory in a separate pharmacy department?  Does Duane Reade really need a pharmacy to be successful? I submit to you that indeed it does. I contend that the image of a pharmacist and a pharmacy department cannot be diluted by exotic foods or other nonessential services like hair and nail salons and beer bars. If that were the case, there would be no successful supermarket pharmacies or pharmacies in big box stores. People will still view Duane Reade as a pharmacy; the other stuff is only window dressing. As with the old soda fountain, I think pharmacy can continue to coexist comfortably with noncompatible businesses under one roof. 

But a development described in The Seattle Times does have me concerned, and it is probably more alien to the profession of pharmacy than sushi bars and hair salons. The article reported that a vending machine has replaced a pharmacist at a medical clinic in Sacramento, California. While the prescription medications stocked in this machine are very limited, the image and perception of pharmacy that it “dispenses” are very disheartening, to say the least. As you would expect, the company that manufactures the vending machine defends its use as a time-saving mechanism to avoid delays in getting prescriptions filled, but speaks nothing of the potential life-saving value of a pharmacist in dispensing prescriptions. Simply said, there is no place in the profession of pharmacy for vending machines as replacements for pharmacists. Although new technology behind the prescription counter is essential for pharmacists to fill prescriptions accurately, there is simply no substitute for face-to-face consultations when dispensing medications. While vending machines have no place in pharmacy, they may be of value in dispensing sushi. 

To comment on this article, contact editor@uspharmacist.com .

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