MINNEAPOLIS - It looks like an oversized cash machine. But instead of spitting out greenbacks, it dispenses prescription medicine.

The Eden Prairie, Minn., company InstyMeds is bringing vending machine convenience to the world of medicine. The number of the machines has doubled in the past three years, with 200 installed in 33 states and the District of Columbia, mostly in emergency rooms and urgent care centers.

Advantages include a reduced risk of giving a patient the wrong drug, according to the company. But pharmacists also point to limitations, such as the machine's inability to counsel patients.

The machines dispense up to 100 of the most commonly prescribed drugs, including pain relievers, antibiotics, asthma inhalers and remedies for the cold and flu.

Patients tap out a number from their doctor, answer a few questions and make a payment. A robot triple-checks the request against a barcode, sticks on an instruction label and drops the medicine out a chute.

A phone attached to the machine is staffed 24 hours a day by insurance specialists.

Some pharmacists have not been so quick to embrace the concept. They worry patients need face-to-face counseling, especially those taking multiple drugs that might interact.

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