Head to Japan where the vending machine culture is on another level compared to South Africa, and you can find almost anything you could conceivably need. That said, they may not have this – an ATM Pharmacy.

The Pharmacy Dispensing Unit (PDU) as it is officially referred to, is the first in the Free State and situated in the Twin City Mall in Bloemfontein.

It’s also the result of a collaborative effort between¬†Right to Care and Right ePharmacy, with deployment carried out with the assistance of the Free State Department of Health.

The location was chosen as Twin City is viewed as a central shopping centre within the city, its also along main transport routes and has extended operating hours on weekends and public holidays. These are all important considerations, especially as the ATM Pharmacy is aimed at those who are unable to head to their regular pharmacy or those who made need medication after hours.

To that end the PDU will be able to dispense chronic mediation to patients with a reported waiting time of less than five minutes. Whether it can keep below that target remains to be seen, as the ATM Pharmacy is officially in operation as of today.

Medicine is dispensed by the PDU in the following five steps:

  • Patient scans barcode on pharmacy card and enters PIN
  • Patient talks to a tele-pharmacist
  • The prescription and or items are selected (and amended)
  • The medicine is robotically dispensed and labelled and drops in the collection bin
  • Patient takes medicines and a receipt which indicates next collection date.

The Pharmacy Dispensing Unit (PDU) works like an ATM for medication, with Skype-like audio-visual interaction between patient and a remotely located tele-pharmacy contact centre. Patients are able to talk to pharmacists in a call centre 400km away in Centurion, Gauteng showcasing the benefits of tele-pharmacy to patients in rural and outlying areas.¬†This allows patients to access accurate medicine information and counselling from qualified pharmacy staff,” a press release about the announcement explained.

At this stage there is no mention of whether PDUs will begin popping up in different locations across the country, but should the trial of it prove successful in the Free State, we can certainly see a case for it in more densely populated provinces like Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape.