Developing Countries

Accessible Healthcare

Robot and ATM pharmacies lead the way in South Africa. A picture story about Right ePharmacy.

Gulshan Khan

Right ePhar­ma­cy was estab­lished to sup­port the health sec­tor in South Africa with inno­v­a­tive phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal sup­ply chain solu­tions aimed at reliev­ing the bur­den on hos­pi­tals and clin­ics and curb­ing non-adher­ence to chron­ic med­ica­tion. Mak­ing use of the lat­est tech­nol­o­gy, it eas­es access to med­ica­tion for patients. We take a look at eight ideas:

Gulshan Khan

1. Cutting waiting times

A busy Monday in Alexandra Township in Johannesburg, South Africa. Patients collect their chronic medication at the dispensary’s Pharmacy Dispensing Unit (PDU) or ATM pharmacy, as it is popularly known. Quick service – less than three minutes – has become the new normal. The Alexandra flagship site serves an average of 200 patients every day.

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2. Learning from banking

“Patients can see for themselves through the window how the technology behind the ATM works. It helps create awareness and get buy-in from the public. It’s as easy as going to the bank,” says Hendriksz.

We’ve shown that with automation in pharmacies and public health, you can do up to 65 percent more prescriptions with the same amount of staff and the same space.

Fanie HendrikszFanie Hendriksz
Managing Director, Right ePharmacy

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3. The convenience of a card

Stable chronic patients with conditions such as asthma, high blood pressure, HIV/AIDS and diabetes are issued with a card and pin. Two days before their due date, they receive a reminder SMS to go to the ATM. There is a “Call pharmacist” button on the machine if they have any questions. It links them immediately to a pharmacist via video call.

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4. Stocking up

A pharmacist scans the barcode on the medication and loads it into a Speedbox behind the ATM. Lights alert the pharmacist to the boxes that need to be prioritized for restocking. Each slot is programmed for specific items to reduce mistakes.

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5. Remote control

When a patient at the ATM selects their medication, it is moved from the slot down a chute and labeled. The centralized system means stock can easily be controlled across all sites.

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6. Optimal organization

A short drive away from Alexandra is the Steve Biko Academic Hospital in Pretoria. The pharmacy has five Speedboxes and an in-pharmacy robot. The machine loads medicines on the shelves, scans the barcode and locates each package to optimize space. Pharmacists and machines work side by side to serve patients quickly.

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7. Faster, better service

Seven dispensing windows are integrated with the robotics. Fast-moving items arrive down the spirals at the front of the pharmacy. “Previously all this was manual, and the files were paper-based. The pharmacists sat at desks and checked medicine scripts. Assistants ran up and down the aisles, picking medicine. Now, they just label it and check it. It means the pharmacist has time to interact with the patient,” says Belinda Strydom, automation manager at Right ePharmacy.


8. The night shift

At 4 pm the pharmacists pack up and leave. Silence reigns in the hospital that has been buzzing since the early hours. The pharmacy waiting room is bare, with little evidence of the many people who gathered there. Inside the pharmacy, the robots begin their work ensuring that medicine is packed again in time for the morning shift.
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