South Africa's Free State Department of Health has followed the Gauteng Department of Health by deploying its first Pharmacy Dispensing Unit (PDU). Also known as an ATM Pharmacy, the PDU is located at the Twin City Mall in Bloemfontein.

Medication for the PDU.

“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 eleven languages and there is on site support to help patients interact with the technology,” said Montseng Tsiu, MEC for Health in the Free State province.

How it works

The PDU works like an ATM for medication. It has audio-visual interaction between the patient and a remotely located tele-pharmacy contact centre. Patients are able to talk to pharmacists in a call centre 400km away in Centurion, Gauteng. The dispensing data is hosted in a cloud-based environment that interfaces with the robotic technology to dispense and label medication at the point of patient collection and interaction.

However, this highlights that the PDU needs a reliable telecommunications connection. This is different to a solution that solves the same problem of patients having to wait in long queues for chronic medication which was developed by a South African startup called TechnoVera. With TechnoVera's chronic medication dispensing unit, all a patient needs is a mobile phone that is able to receive an OTP (One Time Pin) via SMS. They then punch this OTP into the unit, and one of the doors on the unit will open up and they can collect their scheduled chronic medication.

The PDU deployed by both the Gauteng and Free State health departments was developed by a team from Right to Care and Right ePharmacy. The robotic technology used to dispense medication by the PDU was developed by a German company, MACH4.

“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 Fanie Hendriksz, Managing Director of Right ePharmacy.


Cover image credit: The Pharmacy Dispensing Unit at the Twin City Mall in Blowmfontein, South Africa.