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‘Health To Go’ interactive vending machine launches

Penn State College of Medicine has partnered with the SOS Berks Opioid Coalition to launch a new smart ‘Health To Go’ vending machine that can provide free health, wellness and personal care items and connect users to community services.

The vending machine is located in the lobby of the YMCA of Reading and Berks County and is accessible to the public 24/7. This smart vending machine has an interactive interface and is the first of its kind in Pennsylvania.

Photo shows personal care items like deoderant and toothpaste

Health to Go interactive vending machines dispense harm reduction and health and wellness items.

“These vending machines will be able to provide free wellness and personal care items, and connect them to local services and resources they need. The information gained through this project will also allow us to make sure the supports people need in the community are readily available to them,” said Dr. Alice Zhang, co-lead investigator and assistant professor of Family and Community Medicine at the College of Medicine. “A key part of this project was making sure we worked with the community so that the vending machine could truly serve its needs, and so we would like to thank our community partners for their partnership and efforts in making this project possible.”

The interactive, smart vending machine dispenses free health, wellness and personal care items and can also help connect users to community services and resources, like food, shelter, health care or social services. Common items available for dispensing include:

  • Opioid overdose reversal kits
  • Medication disposable bags
  • Personal care items
  • Condoms
  • Pregnancy tests

One of the additional features of the smart vending machine is it will automatically capture information about how it is being used. For example, what items are viewed and dispensed, and when, or what items are running low and need to be re-supplied. Using its large touchscreen, the smart vending machine can also anonymously ask the user questions about their demographics, experiences, preferences and needs to help improve the services and best serve the community.

Photo shows a wound care kit“The ‘Health To Go’ vending machine offers the public low barrier access to health and harm reduction products and, at the same time, reduces the stigma associated with drug use,” said Director of Planning and Resource Development for the Council on Chemical Abuse Marcia Goodman-Hinnershitz

When selecting a location for the vending machine, the SOS Berks team provided medical emergency response data from Downtown Reading that indicated a particularly high call volume related to opioid overdose in the vicinity of the 700 and 800 blocks of Washington Street.

“Unfortunately, certain communities have been deprived of equal access to health care, including addiction treatment. Additionally, the disease of addiction has been marginalized and stigmatized, yet it is so prevalent and so substantially affects our communities. As the College of Medicine at Penn State, we are fully committed to change this,” said Dr. Aleksandra Zgierska, Jeanne L. and Thomas L. Leaman, MD, Endowed Professor and vice chair of research in the Department of Family and Community Medicine. “The vending machine project was developed in collaboration with our community partners to serve its members. We look forward to seeing the positive impact this project has a great potential to have and welcome feedback to improve it.”

As Pennsylvania’s only land-grant university, the College of Medicine’s mission is to improve the health and well-being of communities throughout Pennsylvania. By partnering with community organizations and government officials like SOS Berks and the YMCA, the College is a part of efforts to reduce health disparities and the impact of public health problems faced by our communities.


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