The Free State Department of Health in collaboration with Right to Care and Right ePharmacy has launched the Pharmacy Dispensing Unit™ (PDU™) at Twin City Mall in Bloemfontein with the aim to reduce waiting times and congestion in public healthcare facilities.

The PDU is the first such ‘ATM for medication’ on the African continent and it will allow patients with chronic illnesses to receive repeat medication in under five minutes directly from the machine.

“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,” said Free State MEC for Health, Montseng Tsiu.

“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,” continued Tsiu.

The PDU works like a vending machine for medication, with Skype-like audio-visual interaction between patient and a remotely located tele-pharmacy contact centre. Patients are able to talk to pharmacists in a call centre in Gauteng where the system was first launched. This allows patients to access accurate medicine information and counselling from qualified pharmacy staff.

The dispensing data is hosted in a secure cloud-based electronic software environment that interfaces with the robotic technology to dispense and label medication at the point of patient collection and interaction.

The PDU was developed locally in South Africa using German robotics manufacturer, MACH4’s machinery to dispense the medication, and its database and communications software platform is based on InterSystems Caché and Ensemble solutions.

Medicine is dispensed via the PDU in a simple five-step process: the patient scans their barcode ID book, ID card or pharmacy card and enters a PIN. The patient then talks to a remote pharmacist and selects the prescription or other items. The medicine is then robotically dispensed, labelled and drops in the collection slot. Lastly, the patient takes a receipt which indicates the next collection date.

The launch of the dispensing unit in the Free State is the second phase of the Central Chronic Medicine Dispensing and Distribution Programme (CCMDD) programme that will expand access to chronic medication for patients in rural communities. Further innovations that will be added to enhance access include a high-volume fast lane pre-dispensing service at the Twin City Mall PDU site and Prescription Collection Units.

“Today is World Pharmacist Day and it is befitting to honour pharmacists in the province through initiatives that advance improved access pharmaceutical services,” said Head of Department for the Free State Department of Health, Dr David Motau.

“We are also launching this initiative during national Pharmacy month because it supports the National Department of Health’s Strategy for Improving Medicine Availability (SIMA), adherence and decanting through 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,” continued Dr Motau.

“This pharmacy enhances access to quality pharmaceutical services and improves patient convenience. The tele-pharmacy further enhances the quality of care that we are providing through the dispensing units. The early benefits have shown valuable patient and community data trends that are useful for meeting population needs and health services planning. The technology is making it easier for people with various illnesses to access medication, ultimately improving adherence and health outcomes,” concluded Managing Director of Right ePharmacy, Fanie Hendriksz.

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