Johannesburg Hospital Pharmacy

Case details
About the author

Dr Debashis Basu of the Department of Community Health, Wits School of Public Health, University of the Witwatersrand, and Johannesburg Hospital, and Tessa Murray of Wits Business School, South Africa on Johannesburg Hospital Pharmacy Optimising Operations.

Debashis Basu and Tessa Murray

Why the Johannesburg Hospital pharmacy?

Managing pharmacies at public hospitals in South Africa is always an operations management challenge. They have to manage specific issues related to complying with legislation on the procuring, storing and dispensing of drugs. Moreover, public hospitals in South Africa have to deal with vast numbers of people who queue daily to receive their medicine. Therefore, it was thought that a case study on operations management in a pharmacy would be good for the new Masters in Hospital Management programme which trains chief executive officers of public hospitals.

The Johannesburg Hospital is among the largest hospitals in South Africa, identified as one of the sites for pioneering hospital restructuring in the late 1990s and has been the subject of a number of cases, on hospital finance, retention of nursing staff and corporate governance, developed by the Wits Business School Case Centre, in collaboration with the Wits School of Public Health.

No provision was made for a pharmacy in the original design of the Johannesburg Hospital. As a consequence, the infrastructure of the hospital compounds the operations problems experienced by the pharmacy. Nevertheless, the Johannesburg Hospital pharmacy is a relative success story going through a change management process, which Dr Basu was involved in. We therefore thought it to be an ideal setting for such a case.

What were the teaching objectives?

Clear and strong objectives for the case study were set at the outset by Dr Basu which greatly facilitated its development and writing by Tessa Murray. We knew what we were looking for and what we wanted to achieve.

These learning objectives included:

  • ability to use good judgement in any type of operating environment
  • planning and optimal utilisation of resources, facilities and logistics in any type of operating environment
  • application of quantitative management tools
  • issues of forecasting, decision analysis and scheduling
  • supply chain management
  • quality management.

Subsequent testing of the case in the classroom indicated that our objectives were well met.

Managing the field research

Being a member of the hospital staff and involved in the change process greatly facilitated gaining the necessary approval for developing the case from the CEO of the Johannesburg Hospital. It also helped that the Johannesburg Hospital is an academic hospital attached to the Faculty of Health Sciences at Wits, of which Wits School of Public Health, which initiated this case study, is also part.

One of the greatest difficulties in writing case studies on public sector organisations in South Africa is getting interviews scheduled. Furthermore, case writers often find that appointments are not kept. Both of these factors mean that development of public sector cases can be delayed.

In this instance, however, the case centre had previously established a relationship with the hospital and the chief pharmacist, Ms Daleen van Schalkwyk, when developing a case study on the hospital in 2004 (The Johannesburg Hospital: Of Oaths and Opportunity Costs, Ref 305-426-1). Employees were also helpful and eager to participate and appreciated the opportunity to talk about some of their challenges. As a consequence, development of this case worked very smoothly.

Any advice?

To successfully research the case, it was important to have buy-in at every level of the organisation. Also, prior to starting a case, the writer should be absolutely clear about the objectives, as knowing what you hope to achieve at the outset keeps the task focused.

Although the pharmacy at the Johannesburg Hospital faces some unique challenges, many are typical for all types of organisation. As such, this case could be used to teach operations and supply chain management in a variety of contexts. The value of the case lies in the fact that while the solution seems simple, public sector hospitals have limited resources to acquire enablers, such as the necessary IT systems, to support their activities. Therefore, they need to find practical ways of optimising their operations.

Case details

Click on the case title to view further details and, where available, an educator preview copy.

Johannesburg Hospital Pharmacy Optimising Operations
Debashis Basu and Tessa Murray
Wits Business School, University of the Witwatersrand
Ref 607-001-1

About the author

Dr Debashis Basu is a Lecturer at the Department of Community Health, Wits School of Public Health, University of the Witwatersrand, and a member of staff at Johannesburg Hospital, South Africa.

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