A healthcare innovation, which was the result of the cumulative efforts of German and South African innovators, walked away as the big winners at last nights German Global Health Awards held at the B20 Global Health Conference in Berlin. Mach4 Automatisierunstechnik GmbH came in first prize in the category ‘Small and Medium Enterprises’ at this first-ever Global Health Awards. The award was presented by the German Minister of Economic Affairs and Energy, Brigitte Zypries and focused on innovative solutions for developing and emerging countries.
The innovative solution named Pharmacy of the Future was the result of collaboration with multiple stakeholders: Mach4 as the only technology provider willing to customize a solution for South Africa, Right e-Pharmacy who contributed their pharmacy engineering and design expertise and GIZ (German International Cooperation) South Africa. The Gauteng Department of Health understood the vision and supports the pilot. Major funders of the 3-year project are the German Government and USAID.
The ground-breaking solution allows patients to quickly and conveniently collect their repeat prescriptions at a Pharmacy Dispensing Unit (PDU). A PDU is an ATM-like innovation using electronic and robotic technology to dispense medication. It is being piloted in collaboration with the Gauteng Department of Health at various community shopping centres.
Dirk Beils, a founder of Mach4 and Senior Director Engineering comments, “The objective of the PDU is to improve pharmacy dispensing services and access to medicines in South Africa. This German Global Health Award recognised SMEs which develop innovations especially tailored to the needs of developing and emerging countries. We are delighted to accept the award for our work in co-developing the PDU and helping to create the Pharmacy of the Future.”
e-Pharmacy, as the chief implementers have enhanced the project through their cloud-based information system which hosts and manages patient data and links the patient to a remote pharmacist via an audio-video link. The patient has a virtual consultation with the pharmacist. The robot of MACH4 dispenses the medication to the PDU. The cloud’s SMS system keeps users informed about their next collection dates and sends out reminders. This promotes patient retention and aids the early identification and intervention for patients at risk of non-adherence. The system results in positive clinical outcomes and effective patient data management.
Adherent patients with stable chronic conditions in the South African public health system currently access their medication from clinics and hospitals. PDUs enable people on chronic medication to collect their medication at a time and place which best suits them and at times when clinics are not open. The medicine ATM provides a quick, convenient repeat prescription collection option. PDUs will primarily be used to dispense chronic medication to patients, but they can be customised and developed for specific programmes such as universal test and treat or malaria campaigns.
The PDUs have the potential to improve efficiencies and medicine access in the public sector by decreasing patient waiting time and indirectly reducing the risk of co-infection of communicable diseases related to health facility congestion. The solution can also mean an economic alternative to scaling up medicine dispensing capacity in public services in a responsible and compliant manner.
Pharmacy of the Future can help to further address some of the structural issues in the public health sector such as inadequate capacity which result in patient challenges such as long waiting times and congestion. The solution also helps to transfer patients from the main public health facilities to the PDU collection sites which are placed in communities at central, easily accessible locations such as shopping centres on main transport routes. These sites also are open for extended hours including weekends and public holidays. PDUs are excellent service points for both in-hospital pharmacy requirements, as well as out-of-hospital remote dispensing requirements.
Prof Ian Sanne, CEO of Right to Care explains the benefits: “The PDU helps to significantly reduce the costs of dispensing medicines as well as to enhance patients’ compliance by reducing waiting times and distances to get the medication. It also reduces economic losses resulting from employees’ having to take time off work to collect medicines. In addition, it optimises stock management. Most importantly it improves patient care. There is a shortage of pharmacists in this country and the PDU allows tele-pharmacy through a video link built into the PDUs to best use their time, counselling patients to increase adherence.”