Africa’s first pharmacy ATM to cut Gauteng hospital queues

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JOHANNESBURG, March 15 – South Africans who rely on the perennial congested public health facilities in Gauteng are breathing a sigh of relief as the ground-breaking Pharmacy Dispensing Unit (PDU), also referred to as the “ATM pharmacy”, was launched in the Alexandra township of Johannesburg on Thursday.

Gauteng Health MEC, Dr. Gwen Ramokgopa said the robotic machines will curb the congestion and lengthy queuing characteristic of the public health facilities as patients will now have the option of collecting their medication at different centres away from the hospitals.

“We have leveraged the ICTs, digitalisation of the economy to benefit the health of our people. The Pharmacy Dispensing Unit will assist us to reduce congestion in the public health facilities. Already, in Gauteng we have over 400 000 that are receiving their medicines offsite, as part of decongesting our facilities,” said Ramokgopa.

“Currently they [receive their medication] through the pharmacists that are there in the retail stores and also some that are stand-alone. This technology will assist in reaching with more services to our patients without compromising safety. There are pharmacist assistants on site, and at the machine, through Skype technology it is also possible to get counselling on how to utilise your medication, to find out if you are having side-effects before the medicine is dispensed through robotic technology.”

The ATM pharmacy is programmed to dispense repeat medication to patients with chronic illnesses in under three minutes.

The innovative PDU is the first of its kind in Africa and was developed by a team comprising experts from non-profit organisation Right to Care and Right ePharmacy, in collaboration with the Gauteng department of health headed by Ramokgopa. The PDU works with Skype-like audio-visual interaction between patient and tele-pharmacists, cloud-based electronic software and robotic technology to dispense and label medication.

Right to Care chief executive, Professor Ian Sanne said the long hours spent by South Africans queuing at health facilities are detrimental to economic growth and production.

“One of our staff members went for the first visit to a clinic yesterday [Wednesday]. They arrived as patient number 17 at one of the clinics and left eight hours later. So these incredible waiting times are costing not only people in their individual capacities, but we have published that it actually costs the patient an average of R150 each time they go to a department of health facility for their visits or to collect their medicines,” he said.

“Not only does it cost the patient time and effort, it is costing workdays lost and costing the economy. In partnership with USAID and the GIZ [the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit – a German federal enterprise that supports the German government in achieving objectives in the field of international cooperation for sustainable development] respectively the US government, the German government and in partnership with Mach4, who are the technology partner from Germany, we have been able to build these pharmacy facilities.”

– African News Agency (ANA)