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The Journal Gazette

  • Courtesy Greg Winn, president of the Pill Box, is bringing pharmacies back to small towns such as Albion. Customers can use an iPad to speak with a pharmacist 40 miles away.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019 1:00 am

Telepharmacy steps in

Store's in Albion, its pharmacist's in Warsaw

ROSA SALTER RODRIGUEZ | The Journal Gazette

Albion, which hasn't had a pharmacy in more than a decade, is stepping into 21st-century health care with a new kind of pharmacy – one based on telemedicine.

It's believed by its owner to be among the first in the state.

The Pill Box pharmacy at 903 Northridge Road is designed to serve customers with the chance to talk to a pharmacist via video chat – even though there's no pharmacist in the store.

Prescriptions are dispensed by a nationally certified pharmacy technician and double-checked via photos and computer messages by one of three pharmacists at a companion Pill Box pharmacy in Warsaw, said Greg Winn, an engineer who has been working about five years to have telepharmacy legally approved in Indiana.

That took not only a state law but also regulations by the state pharmacy board, he said. Getting the Albion location up and running, he said, also took state pharmacy board and federal Drug Enforcement Agency inspections and licensing.

“The town of Albion reached out to me in 2015, and they had a survey that said a pharmacy is the No. 1 desired business,” said Winn, 37, Pill Box president.

Many residents had been driving to Kendallville after CVS in 2006 bought the customer list of Albion's Fischer Pharmacy, which also had Avilla and Garrett locations before closing.

“It's a common thing. Many small towns in Indiana have lost pharmacies, like Mentone, Milford and Argos,” Winn said.

Many independents closed after pharmacy benefit managers – middlemen between patients' insurance companies and pharmacies – became more prevalent and reduced reimbursements on prescriptions, he said.

The profit margin became so small that “many small-town pharmacies couldn't keep the lights on,” Winn said. 

Albion's Pill Box pharmacy counter and drive-thru window are equipped with an iPad that connects to pharmacists 40 miles away in Warsaw. When a prescription is received or refilled, all pertinent information will be transmitted by computer to those pharmacists who will check the technician's work.

A patron can request to speak to a pharmacist via videoconferencing with a handset that ensures conversations remain confidential, Winn said. Pharmacy employees also set up a screen-to-screen meeting between a patron and a pharmacist whenever a new prescription is issued to take questions and dispense cautions.

The Albion Pill Box will carry over-the-counter medicines, vitamins and supplements, a limited number of food items, and first-aid and medical supplies. The business will not sell tobacco products or alcohol.

The telepharmacy had a soft opening but has been open officially since Friday. Hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays.

The pharmacy has been filling about eight prescriptions a day, with the goal of filling 30 a day by the end of the first month, Winn said.

“I've seen this trend of small-town pharmacies closing, and I think it's really great we can bring pharmacies back to small towns,” said Winn, a Warsaw resident. “We hope we have a positive effect on the health of the community.”

rsalter@jg.net