Monday, February 09, 2009

A battle over mail-order drugs

From the Boston Globe:
Medco's Willingboro plant may be the largest pharmacy in the world. It is the size of six football fields, and it can fill more prescriptions in a day than an average corner drugstore does in a year.

Robotic arms instead of human hands pour pills into bottles and label them. Infrared scanners rather than human eyes check and recheck each bottle. The machines are 23 times more accurate than the average pharmacist, Medco says, thanks to technology so advanced that computers consult the weather forecast along the shipping routes of heat-sensitive drugs and insert a cooling gel pack if needed.

Actual pharmacists, some of whom handle only specific diseases such as diabetes or cancer, check each patient's record, flag potentially harmful drug interactions, and determine whether there may be a cheaper alternative.

Mail-service pharmacies pitched themselves to Barack Obama's team as one tool for beating back rising health costs and improving healthcare quality.

In a country that spends a larger share of its economy on healthcare than any other in dustrialized nation, and where the chronically ill account for 75 percent of all health spending, owners of mail-service pharmacies say Medicare could save billions if more people bought their regular medications from mail-service pharmacies, exploiting their scale, efficiency, and specialized expertise. ...more

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