There is a better future in the pharmacy

The pharmacy of the future is in South Africa

Online consultation hours for doctors should be possible in Germany by around 2020, and the introduction of vending machines is a controversial issue. In South Africa, a country with 20 million chronically ill people and a major shortage of pharmaceutical staff, the digitalization of the healthcare system has already begun: In three densely populated districts of Johannesburg, patients can collect their medicines from 16 vending machines in four shopping centers. Around 15,000 people, around 70 percent of whom are women, have already used this offer since spring 2017.

The digital pharmacies are the result of the collaboration between the German pharmacy vending machine manufacturer MACH4 and Right E-Pharmacy, the commercial arm of the South African NGO Right to Care, with the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ) GmbH. The project is supported by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) as part of the develoPPP.de program.

Registered patients receive their medication at the machines and are advised by a pharmacist via video call on intake and side effects - in the eleven national languages ​​and also on weekends. The dispensing of medication takes around five minutes, compared to waiting times of several hours in public health facilities. The patients are equipped with a chip card that can be used to access the patient and prescription data stored in a cloud.

The pharmacy machines not only improve access to medication and professional advice, but also the chances of correct, regular medication intake: Patients receive an SMS reminding them of their next pick-up appointment. It also reduces the likelihood of contracting other diseases in the overcrowded waiting rooms or of being stigmatized as an HIV patient.

The machines are not yet fully used: two to three times as many patients could still be cared for. That is a good thing, because the use of high-tech pharmacies is increasing every month.