‘Robot pharmacist’ launched across rural Scotland

A woman tries out the services available in the 'pharmacy kiosk' which is being trialled in Aberdeenshire. Picture: Contributed
A woman tries out the services available in the 'pharmacy kiosk' which is being trialled in Aberdeenshire. Picture: Contributed
Have your say

A ROBOTIC “pharmacy kiosk” that aims to provide a revolution in medicine access in rural areas across Scotland is being launched today.

The kiosk, being trialled in Aberdeenshire, will allow the user to speak remotely to a pharmacist via a webcam – and then safely and securely access either dispensed or recommended over-the-counter medicines near their home.

The service has been developed as part of a research project led by the University of Aberdeen and is part-funded by the Scottish Government.

Professor Christine Bond, chair in general practice and primary care at the University of Aberdeen, said: “The role of the pharmacist and the services they provide has expanded greatly in recent years.

“So in rural areas, where it is not financially viable to have a pharmacy, the local community are disadvantaged.

“People in rural areas are faced with having to travel further to access a pharmacist and as such there is the risk they may be more likely just to buy medicine without taking advice from a pharmacist.

“My research is focused on the safe supply of medicines – both non-prescription and prescription.

“Originally we were tasked with exploring whether pharmacy services could be supplied remotely via a video link, but then we were introduced to [digital services company] Atos and they were able to bring their expertise to the project.”

The kiosk has taken four years to develop at a total project cost of about £150,000 and is currently being trialled in the village of Inverallochy, which is linked to its “hub” pharmacy in nearby Fraserburgh.

In practice, however, the hub pharmacy could be located anywhere in the country.

The project has been developed in conjunction with Atos, and in partnership with medical automation company ARX UK, NHS Grampian and Glasgow, Edinburgh and Robert Gordon universities.

The partners believe the technology will feed into and further inform the latest debate around delivering effective healthcare in rural areas.

David Green, systems integration business director for Atos in Scotland, said the kiosk delivered a viable solution to some of the challenges of healthcare in rural communities.

He said: “This exciting innovation in patient care will extend existing community pharmacy and ePharmacy services and offer the chance to test the kiosk’s potential to provide new additional services which are integrated with existing NHS Scotland systems and services”.

As well as being able to speak directly with a pharmacist and collect dispensed medicines, the kiosk allows users to deposit prescriptions, which can be filled and collected later, and access other standard pharmacy services such as the Minor Ailment Service (MAS).

The MAS allows those who are entitled to them to receive community pharmacy advice and, in some cases, dispensed prescriptions that would otherwise require a visit to a GP practice.