Changing the last mile dispensing, distribution and collection of medicine in Africa

Nov 1st, 2019

It’s 9 am. People are rushing around trying to get their month-end shopping complete, catch a taxi or getting a bite to eat. It’s your turn and you step forward towards the ATM, swipe your card and enter the password. But, instead of money, a two-month supply of your prescribed medication pops out, all in under three minutes.

“For the majority of South Africans, the thought of being able to collect your medication in three minutes sounds like a dream come true,” says Fanie Hendriksz, the managing director of Right ePharmacy, the masterminds behind the Pharmacy Dispensing Unit (PDU) or ATM Pharmacy. “This is because some patients who rely on public health services face up to 6 hours of waiting at their local hospital, clinic or pick up point.” He goes on to explain that, “these clinics are vastly overburdened and long waiting hours have become the norm. The lack of professional pharmaceutical services, accurate stock and quality patient management negatively impacts patients receiving treatment in the public health environment.”

With this in mind and in place, Right ePharmacy decided to take action and set out to seek an innovative, strategic software solution provider for the dispensing, distribution and collection of medicine. It is then that their paths crossed with BBD, an international bespoke software solutions company, who set out on helping them achieving and develop these innovative dreams.

So, how do the PDUs and Collect & Go smart lockers work?

PDUs work exactly like an ATM, but for medication. It has a Skype-like audio-visual interaction between patient and tele-pharmacists with cloud-based electronic software and robotic technology used to dispense and label medication. The PDUs are chronic medication collection points which dispense medication quickly and accurately so that patients who are part of the public service don’t have to wait in long queues at their local clinic every month when collecting repeat medication.

In fact, it is so simple to use that it’s only a 5-step process:

  • Patient scans barcode ID book, ID card or pharmacy card and enters their PIN
  • Patient talks to a remote pharmacist
  • The prescription and/ or items are selected
  • The medicine is robotically dispensed, labelled and dropped into the collection slot
  • The patient takes the receipt which indicates the next collection date

With the apparent dire need for these PDU units growing rapidly, Right ePharmacy has already implemented 5 sites and 18 PDUs, namely in Soweto, Diepsloot, Alexandra and Bloemfontein.

Similarly, the Collect & Go Smart Lockers are electronic locker systems built to improve patient access to pre-dispensed medication parcels. But these aren’t just any ordinary lockers.

“The PCU lockers are temperature-controlled, secure and are integrated with AWS cloud-based technology to enable remote monitoring and management. The cloud-based information system hosts and manages delivery and / or patient data and automatically syncs via mobile connections when the PCUs are refilled. This means that even if a PCU is in a remote area with no connection, it can still sync to the databases often enough to have updated reporting and statistics. In countries like Africa, where there are many areas where people do not have access to infrastructure and connectivity, the ability to bring crucial services such as the delivery of medicine directly to the people is life changing. “BBD’s footprint and vast experience have allowed us to bring specialised software skills to the table which have helped Right ePharmacy extend their reach into their less serviced areas of our nation and others” explains Andre De Wit, BBD’s head of group innovation. By utilising AWS’ cloud, users are informed by SMS about their next collection dates and reminders are sent. Hendriksz explains that “this innovative technology promotes patient retention and assists the early identification and intervention for patients at risk of non-adherence, resulting in positive clinical outcomes and effective patient data management.”

The customised project is directly aligned with South Africa’s National Department of Health priority need to decant stable patients out of facilities and enable more convenient chronic medication collection and management.

BBD has been committed to forging the future with innovative tech for the past 35 years. With their global reach readily at hand, they made for the perfect technology partner. With innovation and improving the quality of life in their sights, BBD and Right ePharmacy have their eyes set on releasing up to 400 Collect & Go Smart Locker units at 67 pick-up points within 6 months.

De Witt says that the next step is to bring this state-of-the-art tech to the rest of the world, starting in Africa. He goes on to explain that, “with our distributed development model, BBD is able to go wherever is needed to assist our clients in their project rollout”.

This, coupled with enabling real-world solutions through innovative tech, allows BBD to create solutions that solve real problems for real people.

Although this is only the beginning, it is evident that the tech is already making strides. With current projections, the technology in place is making it easier for people with various illnesses to have access to medication, ultimately improving adherence and their overall quality of life. And this is only just the beginning.

Dodging disasters with secure cloud environments

Oct 17th, 2019

If dodgy data activity is rattling your confidence in migrating your business to the cloud, you’re not alone. Data breaches are now headlining newsfeeds on a regular basis. The sheer volume of the world’s daily data collection is also spiking security concerns, making the business of protecting it all the more complex.

As a custom software development and cloud enablement company, BBD understands that an organisation’s cloud solution will always be a moving target. No one is immune to the vulnerabilities involved in storing data in the cloud.

Often an afterthought

“This is something that needs to be set up correctly from the very beginning and continuously monitored” says Clayton York, a certified AWS Advanced Networking Specialist, cloud engineer and part of the managed cloud services team at BBD.

“It is advisable to adhere to the five key pillars at the start of any cloud migration plan, one of which involves security measures,” The other pillars of a well architected framework that must be taken into consideration are operational excellence, reliability, performance efficiency, and cost optimisation factors.

The design principles which incorporate these security measures should include tools which can be applied throughout the different layers to provide you with end-to-end protection. This can be achieved by implementing automated security practices and preventative components to guard against potential threats.

Seriously, think security

 Customers, revenue or overall reputation – the very things any business fears becoming compromised or losing altogether are the same reasons why a security strategy must be clearly defined from the beginning.

But it’s not only loss of data, the last thing any organisation wants is an exorbitant bill. With the massive scalability of the cloud at their fingertips, coupled with a malicious intent, hackers can quickly ramp up your costs if your cloud environment is not as secure as you think it is.

“Not all breaches will take you by complete surprise either. Many tricks in a hacker’s toolbox can be planned for and that’s why having the correct security measures in place helps to avoid such a bill, or the loss or theft of sensitive data” explains York.

Breaking misconceptions

To have the mindset that security will only be handled entirely by the cloud provider is not correct. York explains that security is a shared responsibility between the provider and the customer. Which is why selecting the right cloud partner for you is an essential stepping-stone in achieving a secure journey to the cloud.

Simply put, it’s not worth cutting corners at any stage of a migration to the cloud. Credible cloud providers have the best quality infrastructures, highly skilled resources and the professional software in place that’s needed in order to achieve resilience. York explains that at BBD, this is what the client is ultimately paying for when it comes to implementing a top-notch security solution in the cloud. Poor planning or inferior quality services and tools will make the entire project unreliable and by extension, unsafe.

Dodging disasters

York advises that in order to protect yourself against vulnerabilities, always do your research and follow the best practices recommended by your cloud provider during the initial planning phase of your migration strategy. Use the cloud management security tools as they give you an overall indication of the status of your environment and outline potential weaknesses.

  • Ensure that your users accounts are configured with least privileged access
  • Enforce Multi-Factor Authentication on all admin cloud management accounts
  • Preserve the integrity of your data by enforcing the use of stringent encryption techniques of all data in transit as well as all sensitive data at rest
  • Opt for a custom cloud solution which meets your requirements as hosting your data in the cloud does not automatically make it secure and resilient
  • Backup your critical data
  • You’re putting your data at risk if you are accessing your cloud instances directly over the public internet without some form of second level protection like a bastion or VPN
  • Ensure you have set up alert monitoring and notifications for any security changes and irregular behaviour in your access logs

Preventing exposure

A prevention rather than cure approach is key to prevent any data or workflow exposure. Human misconfiguration issues are the biggest cause of information leaks. York suggests implementing security processes which enforce a tight lock-down on user access rights as well as audit trails to track user access in relation to resources.

  • Ensure your management portal credentials and application programming interface (API) are kept away from prying eyes – API security is often overlooked
  • Keep all credentials stored in a secure central location on an encrypted storage medium

Understanding cloud vs on-premise

On-premise solutions differ from cloud in that a business’ internal teams are solely responsible for their own security. Everything from the infrastructure to the application is up to a business to manage on their own. Once a cloud migration has taken place, the responsibility shifts.

After migration, a cloud provider now becomes responsible for protecting the underlying infrastructure which comprises hardware, software and networking that run the cloud services. The customer will now have access to the cloud services and is now responsible for the configuration thereof in order to reach the desired level of security.

“A well-established business with a substantial workload in local datacentres usually requires a lengthy transition period to complete the cloud migration” explains York. During this period the business would be running in a hybrid scenario which from a security perspective can easily become a very uncontrolled situation by exposing new vulnerabilities if not managed correctly.

To prevent against vulnerabilities, and dodge any potential disasters, a security strategy not only needs to be well architected; it must also be adaptable. A patch the holes before they’re made approach helps to anticipate breaches. Preventative measures offer the added bonus of being able to detect any early breaches that occur, and tighten the screws.

With experienced certified cloud professionals implementing and managing migrations at cloud providers such as BBD, it is possible to sustainably secure scalable cloud solutions.

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