VICTOR, Iowa - The small town of Victor now has something you won't find anywhere else in Iowa. It's a pharmacy without an actual pharmacist in the building. And the experiment is merging some new technology with new state rules to solve a problem a lot of small towns may face.
Actually, Victor Drug doesn't look much different from the outside. It's a typical storefront on a main street in the Iowa County community of just under 900 people. But inside is where you really see the difference. Technicians are behind the drug store counter and take the prescription orders in person. But the pharmacist on duty is actually located at another drug store about ten miles away. Customers wear headphones and interact with the remote pharmacist through a secure computer video connection.
That makes it the first true tele-pharmacy in Iowa and it may take time for residents in the small town to get used to the changes. But Steve Border, who was picking up a prescription Wednesday, said the community may adapt quicker than you'd expect.
"As an example, my mother's 90. And she's on the internet all the time. I don't think it'll be a problem for her," Border said.
Todd Thompson opened Victor Drug last week after community members approached him to locate a pharmacy in the town. The last traditional drug store in Victor closed two years ago. Thompson, who owns a total of five small town drug stores, said you usually need a population of at least 1,200 to 1,600 people to support a fully-staffed pharmacy. But as he looked at the situation in Victor, the idea of sharing a pharmacist at another location took hold.
The new Victor Drug has technicians in the store to take the actual order and fill the prescription from the 600 to 650 medications kept in stock. The pharmacist in a neighboring town reviews the work through the video connection and also consults face to face with the customer in the same manner.
Thompson said automatic drug dispensing machines would have been another option for Victor. But the community probably couldn't have supported that financially.
"The robotic machines run anywhere from $150,000 to $200,000. And you're in a limited income situation . So robotics ruled themselves out," Thompson said.
The Iowa Board of Pharmacy has rules about operating a tele-pharmacy. But Thompson said those rules were geared toward businesses wanting to use automatic drug dispensing machines. The board waived requirements to allow Victor Drug to use a lower-cost secure video connection, and remote pharmacist, to fill prescription orders.
After another pharmacy left, Victor residents faced at least a 10 to 15 mile trip to the nearest drug store. Leonard Seda, chairman of the Victor Community Development Association, hopes the community welcomes the return of the new drug store with the innovative system to fill prescriptions. And he's thinking other small communities are watching to see what happens.
"I would say this system would become very common in the state of Iowa because we have a lot of small towns with difficulty supporting a full pharmacy with pharmacist," Seda said.
Seda believes Victor residents will support the new closer-to-home drug store with prescription orders. The store is open from 9:00 a.m. till 5:00 p.m. Monday through Fridays now. But Saturday hours are a possibility in the future.
Owner Thompson said the state of Iowa has taken an interest in the experiment to see if other small communities with a need for a drug store could benefit.
Iowa Governor Terry Branstad and Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds plan to come to Victor on Friday, November 2nd at 10:30 a.m. for an official ribbon cutting at the new tele-pharmacy.