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Pharmacy Dispensing Units provide remote care

Siboniso Bophela

02 May 2022

Can Pharmacy Dispensing Unit's be a solution for rural and township areas?


A team of experts from Right To Care, Right ePharmacy, and in collaboration with the Gauteng Department of Health developed the Pharmacy Dispensing Unit (PDU), which was the first of its kind in Africa. With the PDU, patients can interact with tele-pharmacists via audio-visual (Skype-like) interaction, using cloud-based electronic software to dispense and label medications, and robotic technology to dispense them.


Alexander Plaza was selected as the first pilot site for the PDU in 2018. There are over 30 000 patients who depend on chronic medication in this area, which is among the poorest in Johannesburg. It is convenient for patients to collect their medicines from the PDU, which stays open for extended hours, even on weekends and public holidays.

PDU collection sites can be placed in communities at central and easily accessible locations such as shopping centres on main transport routes.


Pharmacists and pharmacy assistants are responsible for managing the system, which integrates with the clinical management of chronically ill patients at public facilities. In addition, it promotes adherence to medications.

Patients are given a receipt showing when their next collection is due, as well as SMS reminders to collect their prescriptions. If collection is late, a reminder is sent.


It also assists the Department of Health in the efficient distribution of medicine. It is a massively time-saving option for patients who need medicine. Where people would previously have to spend hours waiting for medication at a clinic, and often miss a day’s work and wages, they can now get it within minutes at their local shopping centre.

“Sometimes I would leave after waiting for hours in the queue [at local clinics] because I must go to my job. When I don’t get my medication I get very sick and can’t work,” an Alexander resident explained.


Through telecommunications, the PDU can deliver live patient counselling pharmaceutical care to patients in locations where they do not have direct access to a pharmacist. The cloud-based information system hosts and manages patient data and links the patient to a remote pharmacist via an audio-video link. This virtual consultation between the patient and the pharmacist is called tele-pharmacy.

Furthermore, patients can access the site in eleven different languages and there is a technology support department on site.


Medicine is dispensed in a simple 5-step process:

  • Patient scans barcode ID book, ID card or pharmacy card and enters PIN

  • Patient talks to a remote pharmacist

  • The prescription and or items are selected

  • The medicine is robotically dispensed and labelled and drops in the collection slot

  • The patient takes the receipt which indicates the next collection date.

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