Free State gets first pharmacy of the future in SA – a win during Covid-19

The Free State Department of Health and Right ePharmacy have launched South Africa’s first 3 in 1 electronic medicine dispensing and distribution facility, providing chronic patients with fast access to their medication, while allowing them to stay away from public hospitals and clinics and reducing chances of Covid-19 infection.

The collaboration between the Free State Department of Health and Right ePharmacy makes it easy for public patients to access their medicine for chronic illnesses such as asthma, HIV/Aids and diabetes. This 3 in 1 programme is in line with the department’s goal to reduce congestion in public health facilities, especially during the Covid-19 outbreak.

The programme, which is funded by The Global Fund, also ensures that chronically ill patients receive their medication on time.

Belinda Strydom, Right ePharmacy automation manager, says: “Getting public patients out of facilities to limit Covid-19 infections for their protection and that of health workers is important. The foresight of the Free State Department of Health and Right ePharmacy’s advanced technology has made this possible.”

In Twin City Mall in Bloemfontein, patients can now collect their chronic medication quickly from a Collect & Go smart locker or an advanced ‘ATM pharmacy’ which dispenses repeat chronic medication in minutes and allows patients to talk to a remote pharmacist if they need assistance. In addition, Right ePharmacy has added another layer of convenience, with its Central Dispensing Unit (CDU).

“This unit has dedicated pharmacists who package and label medication daily and send it out for the various Collect & Go smart lockers in the Free State.

“The advantage for the patient is that it’s really quick to collect medication. They can either go to the ATM pharmacy or a Collect & Go smart locker where the medication package is ready, making their pick-up time less than a minute,” Strydom says.

Free State flagship province

She adds that the Free State is Right ePharmacy’s flagship province for the 3 in 1 service due to the long distances that people have to travel to collect their medication.

“The Free State area covers vast distances, so the CDU is strategically situated so that if the programme expands to nearby districts in the Free State, the unit can supply to those districts too,” says Strydom. The CDU in Bloemfontein is one of only two on the continent, with the second one located in Zambia.

In the Free State, Right ePharmacy has site agents stationed at hospitals and clinics, who support patients and facilitate referrals to the CDU. Once patients start using Right ePharmacy’s services, they can collect repeat medication at the ATM pharmacy or smart locker.

The CDU also packages and dispenses medication for local old age homes, limiting the time the elderly spends in clinics and hospitals.

Patients can ask to be registered to use the ATM pharmacy or the Collect & Go smart lockers at their public healthcare facility.

Hloni Tladi, Twin City Pharmacy Dispensing Unit supervisor at Right e-Pharmacy says, “In the past patients who have complicated or more than one chronic condition would have to go to the hospital to get specialised drugs for their chronic conditions, such as heart disease. After that they would have to go to the clinic to collect their medication for another condition, spending hours in healthcare facilities. This is no longer necessary.”

Tladi adds that patients often could not find their drugs due to stockouts. “The Bloemfontein 3 in 1 programme tackles the problem of patients having to travel back and forth to collect all their drugs. We source all the medication required then we package it into one parcel and it gets sent to the smart lockers and various pick-up points,” he says.

The CDU also keeps track of patient and medicine movements. If a patient is late or forgets to pick up their medication, they are reminded with a text. Should the patient still not show-up to collect the medication, then the clinic is notified to find them, while the medication is returned to the CDU. 

Collect & Go smart lockers are pick up points for chronic medication and are available at 18 sites in the Free State funded by the Global fund (Bloemfontein) and Eastern Free State (USAID). They are situated in:

  • Bloemfontein: Twin City Shopping Centre, MUCPP CHC, Batho Clinic, Gabriel Dichaba Clinic, National District Hospital
  • Bethlehem: Bohlokong Clinic, Paballong Clinic and Phekelong
  • Ficksburg: Meqheleng Clinic 
  • Harrismith: Harrismith Clinic
  • Petrus Steyn: Rearabetswe Clinic
  • Puthaitjhaba: Bluegum Bosh, Bolata Clinic, Elizabeth Ross District Hospital, Phutaiditjaba Clinic, Qholaqhwe, Tebang Clinic and Tseki Clinic

Right ePharmacy is a division of NPO Right to Care.


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