South Africa’s busiest HIV clinic sees up
to 750 patients a day with more than 17 000 patients on ARVs. In response to
lengthy patient queues and overworked pharmacist staff, the first robotically
automated pharmacy has been introduced in a public health facility in South
Africa. This innovation addresses the concerns of patients needing HIV and
other chronic medicines at the Right to Care’s Themba Lethu HIV Clinic at
Johannesburg’s Helen Joseph Hospital.
Right to Care is South Africa’s leading
HIV/Aids NGO. Funding for the initiative was provided by USAID.
The automation system demonstrates the
latest technologies in pharmacy dispensing and Themba Lethu Clinic has seen
patient waiting times in the pharmacy drop from over four hours to 18
minutes. The system has also eliminated
the loss of stock due to drug expiry which will save the Department of Health
millions of Rands.
How does the system work?
Doctors in the clinic write electronic
scripts which then link directly into a patient management system in the
pharmacy using cloud technology systems. Medicines are then automatically
dispensed and are available for handover by pharmacy staff shortly after the
patient arrives at the pharmacy.
The system holds all the medicine stock in
a secure container and a robotic picking head is used to quickly dispense the
medicines to the pharmacist. It was not
just a machine that was installed, but systems and processes for stock control
management and pharmacy dispensing that are aligned to a new way of work flow
and responsibility within the pharmacy.
Dr Papi Majuba, Right to Care’s Chief
Medical Officer comments, “Patients now receive their drugs very quickly, which
leaves more time for patient counselling from the pharmacy staff. Picking errors and have been reduced to zero
and patient care has improved. Patients
are now more compliant on their medicines as a result of not having to spend
the whole day at the clinic.”
With increased efficiencies, the staff
requirement to run the pharmacy has been drastically reduced, allowing for
pharmacy personnel to be used for supportive functions in the wards and
throughout the clinic. The pharmacy used
to close at 19h30, with staff working overtime.
Now the pharmacy sees all patients by 15h00.
Kurt Firnhaber, COO of Right to Care adds,
“Right to Care has received international recognition for one of the many
innovations it is has developed in support of public health in South
Africa. We believe that through the
advancements and innovation of automation in medicine dispensing there will be
enormous benefits to the patients who access services through the Department of
Right to Care is also working with the
National Health Insurance (NHI) to expand this innovation at a further three
sites in Tshwane.
Future plans and developments
The next development which is not yet
available anywhere in the world, includes the use of Pharmacy Dispensing Units
(PDUs), developed by Right to Care Health Services which are like ATMs, that
will deliver drugs to patients 24 hours a day, with support from Right to
Care’s call centre pharmacy. Patients
will be able to obtain drugs at PDUs simply by using their South African bar
coded ID or health card. This innovation
also uses a cloud based pharmacy and data system that will manage these remote
The support of Liberty Life will play an
important role in developing this approach to bringing medicines to people
needing chronic medicines. Right to Care
is also working closely with the Department of Health, the Pharmacy Council and
the National Health Insurance to advance this technology.
Right to Cares won a major international
award for its system that automates pharmacy systems in high volume treatment
centres. It won the category of the Best Enterprise & IT Architecture in
Government/Defence/Public Sector. The award, which was selected from projects
submitted from 27 different countries, was presented in Bangalore, India at the
iCMG Conference of Enterprise & IT Architecture 2013. Previous winners and
finalists include many well known multi-national companies, IT specialist and
governments from around the world.
See the system in operation by clicking here