Read the Conversation

EF: What is the role that PBSA plays in South Africa? 

MS: We focus on providing practical and reliable automation solutions in South Africa, ensuring that our customers’ needs and requirements are not only met, but exceeded. As part of our drive to serve the local market with superior healthcare solutions, we recently participated in SAPHEX and HISA, which we harnessed to launch our new healthcare suite into Southern Africa under our PBSA|Health Division, focusing mainly on the Gollmann Automated Dispensing Unit (ADU). 

Since then, we have had several discussions with key players in the private and retail pharmacy scenes, respectively, and with hospitals. We aim to provide solutions that are desperately needed in the pharmacy space, given the massive challenges that need to be addressed. For example, the amount of time taken to dispense medicine needs to be reduced, and stock management vastly improved. Recently, a prominent pharmacy was in the news for dispensing expired medication – an indication that the monitoring of expiry dates is another pain point that needs to be adequately dealt with. 

The Gollman ADU system eliminates dispensing errors while speeding up the process of dispensing medication, from start to finish. 

EF: What is your current market strategy?

MS: We are collaborating with different pharmacy chains, designing solutions according to each one’s requirements, and we are in discussion with three of South Africa’s most prominent private hospitals. If there are opportunities in the government sector, we will consider breaking into this sector as well, but our primary focus right now is the private sector, private hospitals, pharmacies, and group pharmacies. 

Our go-to-market strategy also includes smaller groups and pharmacies in South Africa. We have found that smaller towns – which have fewer pharmacies in number, are considerably bigger than many of the mainstream ones in size. Here, much more efficiency and control are needed. This is where PBSA|Health can assist, not only with a product but with a holistic solution that addresses all of the unique challenges being faced. 

The competitive edge we have against most automation companies in South Africa is that we can add value and longevity to our solutions, rather than merely implementing them. Our solution is not a ready-made one. Each scenario involves extensive consultation and research, allowing us to determine the best automation solution for each client’s unique needs. Our product is also scalable, so it can change and grow as each client’s needs do. We believe in long-term relationships, where there are no once-off purchases, but rather investments in partnerships that are built with – and grow over – time. 

EF: Solutions like digital signature can be used in many different ways and sectors. Why do you think Digital Signatures are needed in Pharma, and why now? 

MS: PBSA has partnered with some of the leading Practice Management Software (PMS) providers in South Africa and Africa to increase efficiencies and streamline administrative functions through integration with PBSA’s workflow software, SigniFlow.  

The digitisation of prescriptions, which can now be produced electronically by most PMS systems (known as E-prescribing or E-scripting), forms a critical component of the overall digitisation of pharmacies and practices. Digitising prescriptions come with many advantages for both the health care sector and the patient, however, doing so requires a careful approach to the legal framework. The first of which is the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act (ECT Act) of 2002, which is a fairly modern Act that enables and facilitates electronic communications and transactions in the public interest. To comply with the legal framework for electronic scripts, the ECT Act must be read in conjunction with the Medicines and Related Substances Act (MRS Act) of 1965, as amended. 

To cut down on the legal jargon, the MRS Act requires a script to be signed, and the ECT Act states that where the signature of a person is required by law and such law does not specify the type of signature, that requirement is only met if an Advanced Electronic Signature (AES) is used. An AES in South Africa (equivalent to a Qualified Electronic Signature in Europe under eIDAS) is a Government accredited digital certificate that is issued to a person, like a Doctor, face to face by a Certificate Authority (CA). The digital certificate is then used by SigniFlow to legally sign prescriptions produced electronically by the PMS.

EF: You offer technological solutions to healthcare providers as they navigate through this transformational phase. How do you see its adoption in South Africa today and how will it evolve in the future? 

MS: We have found the South African market to be open-minded when it comes to using technology to solve challenges. Whether or not pharma players are acquainted with automated dispensing, they are keen to learn and to see the technology in motion, solving real and everyday problems. Also, with technology prices coming down, it is now cost-effective enough to install automation systems in many more pharmacies than previously possible. 

South Africa – like any other country in the world – needs to embrace technology and innovation. It is no longer about whether or not to adopt new technologies to address our challenges; it is about when. And the answer is now. If we become stagnant or fail to keep up, we fail. 

It was because we recognised this need, along with the fact that the healthcare sector could benefit hugely from innovation and technology, that PBSA branched out, creating PBSA|Health. 

EF: What it is not measured, cannot be improved. How are you leveraging technologies to boost the business? 

MS: Because of the nature of our business, we have a large amount of data available to us. Seven years ago, we started verifying people and identities. This involved the collection of data from both local and international sources. Our pbVerify service puts us in an excellent position to leverage the data managed by excellent data providers while remaining compliant at all times. 

Pertaining to data in the healthcare sector specifically, we work with several large pharmacy groups, as well as smaller pharmacies, to provide a service that enables the sharing of medication stock information. 

With our medication and stock monitoring software, we can also advise as to what quantities should be ordered, thereby helping the business manage their product and time better. This software can also be tailored to support different business rules, such as run quicker during peak times, or bring older medication first.  Being a forward-thinking company, we look at data as a hugely valuable resource, a notion that South African business in general is starting to take up. While investing in automation to drive prices down is good, we believe the data being captured in the automation process is an important asset and part of a company’s ROI. 

EF: Where do you see South Africa in 5 years, and what would you feel most proud of accomplishing? 

MS: We will be less paper-based and far more software-based, and the main area for us will be the health sector, which we have identified as being highly in need of technology and software. Our traditional business started 20 years ago and has evolved. We have an excellent management team with people who are all part of our culture of innovation, which will further our goals immeasurably.  PBSA employs over 70 people, with an average age of 35, and we are proud to say that, in the very competitive market of technology in South Africa, we can innovate beyond the pace the market is moving. 

The PBSA group is always looking for new ideas, possibilities, and inventions. We are proud to have built a space like this.

November 2019
South Africa