The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has, in partnership with Right ePharmacy, developed a pharmacy automation robot for medicine dispensing.
The robot is being showcased in conjunction with the Intelligent Manufacturing Systems ManuVation 4.0 workshop, which is being held on Monday and Tuesday, at the CSIR Campus, in Pretoria.
The robot is an automated machine that enables people to access their sachet-packaged prescribed chronic medication.
It works in a similar fashion to an automated teller machine (ATM), using robotic technology to label and dispense the medication.
Users either type in their relevant details or let the machine read their script, which has been issued by a doctor. The machine will require personal identification to ensure the medication is being dispensed to the correct individual.
Moreover, it has the function to print labels with the patient’s medication information and can add this to the sachet before it is dispensed to the patient.
Further, the robot also contains a video call option for users to speak directly to a pharmacist to resolve any queries or provide assistance.
CSIR executive director Martin Sanne on Monday extolled that the robot was a world first. He explained that while other medicine dispensers exist, these are restricted to bottled medication, and do not cater for sachets.
Moreover, the robot was produced locally and constitutes about 80% local materials.
Sanne emphasised that the CSIR did not develop the robot to replace primary human jobs and responsibilities. Rather, it is aimed at providing alternatives for time consuming behind-the-scenes work and processes.
This, he posited, would engender more time for pharmacists, thereby enhancing their work output.
Sanne noted that the robot is especially geared towards those with chronic conditions, who require prescribed medication at regular, scheduled occurrences.
This model being showcased is a prototype. It will be installed in Alexandra, Johannesburg, where it will serve as the first test model.
Through the trial project, the CSIR will be able assess elements such as whether the software and parts are working correctly and up to standard and if the robot can work 24 hours a day, as well as identify any problems and determine how to fix them.
Once this process has been completed and the model is deemed of appropriate standard, the CSIR will seek to engage entities to mass-produce the robots.
It can then be installed at hospitals, clinics and pharmacies countrywide, with scope in the future to even export to other countries that use sachet packaging for medication.
Prescribed medication packaged in sachets is mainly done in Africa, Sanne indicated.
He highlighted that, with this robot, the waiting periods at clinics and hospitals will be cut down drastically, thereby relieving pressure on patients, pharmacists and the public healthcare system.
“This will greatly benefit those with chronic conditions – instead of having to wait in long queues for hours on end, they are able to receive their medication quickly, efficiently and safely.”
He assured that measures have been put in place to ensure the system is not compromised.
“As with any technology or autonomous system, such as an ATM, this can be targeted, but from our side, we have implemented all the necessary measures aiming to prevent this.”
Moreover, this includes ensuring that patients do not get the incorrect dosage of medication, or do not get their medication at the incorrect time – with this dictated by the script or the individual’s information.