The Free State Department of Health, in partnership with Right to Care and Right ePharmacy, has unveiled the province’s first ATM pharmacy, aimed at reducing waiting times and congestion in public healthcare facilities.
The Pharmacy Dispensing Unit (PDU) was unveiled in Bloemfontein yesterday, in light of Pharmacy Month. The unit provides patients with repeat medication for chronic illnesses, in less than five minutes.
The cloud-based PDU, at Twin City Mall in Bloemfontein, works like an ATM for medication. Patients are required to first go to the information desk where a pharmacist validates their medical script details and issues them with an identification card. The card allows patients with repeat prescriptions to return as often as required and use the self-service machine. It allows Skype-like audio-visual communication between the patient and a remotely located contact centre agent.
Free State MEC for health Montseng Tsiu explains: “This is a great step forward for patients in our city as this technologically advanced pharmacy will dramatically reduce waiting times and congestion in public healthcare facilities in Mangaung.
“The system is run by qualified pharmacists and pharmacy assistants, and integrates with the clinical management processes of patients with chronic conditions at public facilities. It also reminds patients when to collect their medication, which improves adherence.
“The date for the next collection is shown on the patient’s receipt, and prescription collection reminders are sent by SMS. Late collections are immediately identified and flagged for follow-up. Patients are serviced in all 11 languages and there is on-site support to help patients interact with the technology.”
The Twin City Mall unit services patients from primary facilities as well as chronic medication patients referred from tertiary and district hospitals. The technology, according to the provincial health department, will positively impact high patient volume institutions such as district hospitals, regional hospitals, and community health center facilities as well as clinics, by reducing the patient load and waiting times.
The PDU runs on an electronic scripting cloud-based solution called ERX, together with the Microsoft.net platform. Additionally, it uses a robotic Skype-like audio-visual communication system which links to the Gauteng-based call center, allowing the tele-pharmacists to engage with patients and remotely push the dispensing button at the end of the communication.
The ATM pharmacy was first launched in Alexandra Township, Johannesburg, in March by the Gauteng Department of Health. At the time, it was referred to as the first medical dispensing self-service machine in Africa.
The launch of the dispensing unit in the Free State is the second phase of the Central Medicine Dispensing and Distribution (CCMDD) programme that will expand access to chronic medication for patients in rural communities.
Speaking at the launch yesterday, Dr David Motau, head of the department for the Free State Department of Health, said: “Today is World Pharmacist Day and it is befitting to honour pharmacists in the province through initiatives that advance improved access to pharmaceutical services.
“We are also launching this initiative during National Pharmacy Month because it supports the National Department of Health’s Strategy for Improving Medicine Availability, adherence and decanting through an implementation of the CCMDD. Ultimately, this new PDU at Twin City shopping centre in Bloemfontein is about improving the patient experience, providing quality clinical care and decreasing patient numbers and congestion at our surrounding public health facilities.”
The Free State Department of Health says it intends adding more innovations that will enhance access to medical care, including a high-volume fast lane pre-dispensing service at the Twin City Mall PDU site and Prescription Collection Units (PCUs). PCUs are inexpensive distribution and collection lockers which will be placed at various locations throughout the area as alternative medicine collection points.
Ian Hove, programme manager for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, says: “This ATM-like medication dispenser demonstrates innovative thinking to overcome challenges we encounter in ensuring people stay on HIV treatment or treatment for other chronic illnesses. What has been launched today is only phase one of a larger programme.
“We are pleased to have partnered with Right ePharmacy on this and other innovations for people living with HIV. The PDUs and PCUs are innovative solutions that use technology to move beyond traditional healthcare delivery.”
The PDU dispenses medicine in a five-step process:
Patient scans barcode on pharmacy card and enters PIN.
Patient talks to a tele-pharmacist.
The prescription and/or items are selected.
The medicine is robotically dispensed and labelled and drops in the collection bin.
Patient takes medicines and a receipt which indicates next collection date.
Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb journalist.