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Dubbed the ‘ATM Pharmacy,’ an ATM vending machine that instead of issuing out cash, issues drugs to patients with chronic illnesses.

South Africans in need of repeat medication can now visit these ATM Pharmacy and get their drugs out of the machine instead of having to visit a pharmacy shop manned by a human. The machines were launched in Alexandra (a Jo’burg township) on Thursday last week.

The Pharmacy Dispensing Unit (PDU) was developed by health care experts from the Right ePharmacy [link] and Right to Care [link] in consultation with the Gauteng Department of Health. The PDU ATM for medication works through Skype-like video and audio interaction between the patient and the tele-pharmacists. The ATM also uses cloud-based electronic software and robotic technology for the dispensing and labeling the medication.

Our partnerships made this innovation possible and we are grateful to the Gauteng Provincial Health Department and for the contributions of USAID, GIZ who are implementing on behalf of the German Government and Mach4,” said Prof. Ian Sanne, the CEO of Right to Care.

The PDUTM was developed to ensure accurate dispensing and quick collection. A clinically stable patient on chronic medication can be given the option to collect chronic prescriptions from the PDUTM pharmacy. While driven by sophisticated technology, patients’ concerns and information needs are still handled one-on-one by tele-pharmacists.

Alexandra Plaza, where our first PDU is located, is a central community shopping center which is on transport routes and it is open on weekends and public holidays. Sites in Diepsloot and two sites in Soweto have also been selected for the pilot of this public pharmacy program.”

Gauteng Health MEC, Gwen Ramokgopa added: “This is a great step forward for patients in our city as it dramatically reduces waiting times and congestion in public healthcare facilities. In Alex, there are eight primary healthcare clinics in the vicinity which refer patients”

Steps in dispensing medicine at the PDU ATM

The patients walk up to the ATM, scans a barcode on their pharmacy card, ID book, or ID card and then enters PIN

A tele-pharmacist comes online and talks to the patient

From the patient and tele-pharmacist interaction, the appropriate prescription are selected

The robotic arms in the ATM dispenses and labels the medication and drop it out to the collection slot

The patient is issued with a receipt bearing details of their next collection date

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