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.