This Digital Pharmacy Aims To Deliver Prescriptions to Your Door During the COVID-19 Pandemic
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The COVID-19 outbreak has accelerated the digitization of healthcare. Nascent projects in telemedicine have an important role in the mission to continue providing care whilst minimizing the risk of viral spread.
But once a patient has seen their physician and been prescribed medication, the challenge remains of how to get that medication to the patient. With a large proportion of the world’s population in lockdown, this has become a pressing issue. To meet this need, “digital pharmacy” Genius Rx, led by telemedicine industry veteran Randy Parker, says it will trial same-day couriered delivery of scripts to patients’ doors from this summer. We spoke to Randy about the process of getting medication online, how analytics technology could save patients money and why the COVID-19 pandemic could ultimately push healthcare into the future.
Ruairi Mackenzie (RM): What are the problems with getting prescriptions using traditional pharmacy systems?
Randy Parker (RP): Just like everything else in healthcare, there are huge amounts of inefficiency. In the pharmacy world, the first and foremost is the lack of transparency around a) the drug I’m being prescribed by the physician and can I afford it in the US system, b) other alternatives out there that are better that I should be on, and c) alternative over-the-counter (OTC) products that I should be considering as well. The second part is just how inefficient for patients going to retail pharmacy is. I founded MDLive, one of the largest telemedicine companies in the US with over 40 million members. What I realized was that whilst we were making it much easier and more convenient for patients to connect to providers, when prescriptions had to be written, what I would call the last mile of healthcare, we were expecting patients to get into their cars and pick up the prescription. If they are seniors, they might have no way to do that.
The MailMyPrescriptions predecessor company, as well as the entire industry around mail order that’s been around forever in the US, has not ever provided robotic process automation as we’re doing with our implementation so that they can be highly efficient around that last mile. That could be maintenance medications that have to be provided for chronic patients or acute care medications, which is what the telemedicine world predominantly prescribes, such as Tamiflu for flu, that have to be delivered and made available same day. Improving that delivery and having the intelligence sit on top of it for recommendations is very powerful.
RM: If a consumer was to use one of your digital pharmacies, what would the required input from their end be?
RP: The digital pharmacy platform that we have built makes medicine very simple, intuitive and personal. We give the consumer patient guidance. We are an advanced online pharmacy platform and our analytics technology, RX Intelligence, allows the member who has a script to determine what the actual cost of that drug would be and if it’s covered through their insurance or if they would pay cash. Once the intelligence is presented and gives them this transparency, then we can either deliver it through our platform or send it to a retailer that they could pick it up from. We’ll be rolling out in the summer the ability to have it messengered to their homes the same day for acute care medications at the same cost that it would cost them inside their plan design.
RM: Postal services and delivery services are going to be coming under increasing pressure in the current pandemic. Will you be able to guarantee deliveries, especially for acute medication, that cannot wait?
RP: All of these capabilities exist throughout the world. We’re working with partners to integrate and leverage our logistics platform, our intelligence and our shopping capabilities from price transparency. From a delivery point of view, we will guarantee delivery with same day for acute medications and we have networks of infrastructure that will assure that we’ll be able to deliver that service. We’re starting in markets where there’s high concentration as our initial focus so that we can guarantee that. We would work to make sure that we could meet that execution and we feel comfortable because there is a surplus of logistics.
If you think about Amazon in the US and how they moved their freight delivery to in-house, that has opened up lots of access inside the US to carriers that were using and providing these services to Amazon who are now looking for companies like Genius to be able to fill that gap that we can capitalize on.
RM: You’ve outlined some really valid reasons as to why something like Genius would give consumers in the US, who are on insurance plans, information they wouldn’t otherwise have access to. But do you see this tool as ultimately being something that can be expanded to markets with a nationalized health service, or is it something you’re currently just focusing on the US for?
RP: We are focusing our launch initiatives on the US. Prescription drugs make up 10% of the almost $3.8 trillion of healthcare spending in the US. Global expansion is definitely part of our future roadmap. But although in some countries in Europe you have a universal type of government healthcare, in the US we have Medicare. In Medicare programs, the drug benefit is included. The cost transparency is not a problem, but adherence compliance of the medications – medications being taken and the patient being compliant – is a major cost of expense. In the US $850 billion of waste is due to non-adherence to the clinical or prescription program that the patient’s supposed to be on. Our software intelligence, RX Intelligence, monitors this – all of the prescription spend, what has been prescribed and delivered and this is focused on compliance and adherence.
Delivery efficiency also has a part to play. For seniors that can’t get out of their houses, improving this supply chain capability to deliver to them efficiently is a big part of what we want to perfect here in the US first and then expand into a global capability as we move forward.
RM: Could you explain why your technology could be so useful in the current COVID-19 crisis?
RP: I’ve been thinking a lot about this. Starting a telemedicine company in 2006, it took a decade to be able to get a change of behavior when it comes to awareness and adoption, even though every time we had a patient use it, they loved it and we were able to demonstrate the cost savings.
As we finally got to begin to scale that over the last couple of years, we were helping millions of people get access to their providers for virtual visits where they didn’t have to leave and go into a clinic and potentially be involved in either overcrowding in ER or being in a place where they may expose themselves or their families to germs, but then we were sending them out to their cars to go to brick and mortar pharmacies in the middle of the winter. For senior populations, they might not be able to get out at all. This pandemic that we have now with coronavirus has created a behavioral change in healthcare not seen for 100 years. Patients need to have scalable solutions to a) get access to providers and b) be able to get medications delivered to their homes and although we will see a light at the end of the tunnel, I think the silver lining is we’re forcing healthcare to realize they have to be prepared, and digital health solutions, like Genius will never be the same again.
The President of the United States talked about the power of using telemedicine and the digital capabilities and benefits that it provides. I never thought in my life, three months ago, I would have heard that.Consumers, patients, and healthcare providers won’t accept the way it was before this coronavirus crisis that we’re dealing with right now and I see that as a silver lining because the efficiency and capability to do this using technology like Genius is providing is so important and it took this type of event to create the change of behavior.
The President of the United States talked about the power of using telemedicine and the digital capabilities and benefits that it provides. I never thought in my life, three months ago, I would have heard that. Getting a telemedicine visit and then needing to get that medication delivered, whether that’s by mail or by courier is the future of pharmacy and the future of healthcare.
RM: What protocols do you have in place to make sure that this data is used by consumers for their benefit but also not used in the wrong way by companies or insurers?
RP: When it comes to HIPAA and privacy of information, I think what we bring at our team is 12 years of experience in how to make sure the security around the data is of the highest regard. We’ve had to learn that from our experience of creating an industry that before us was just a handful of companies who were offering telemedicine. We had to lobby against multiple states and medical boards that pushed back on it and we had to demonstrate that our level of security protocol went far beyond any physician’s practice or health system anywhere as we built the telemedicine platforms for over 40 million members. So we get to take those best practices around security for the patient with us.
The trick is doing that in a way that still creates an incredible user experience for the provider and patient. Its why a lot of Electronic Medical Records (EMRs) and other healthcare applications have struggled because it made the experience very difficult for the consumer patient to use. We have the expertise and discipline on how to do both. Most healthcare providers throughout the world are still using faxes or have to rely on legacy platforms while we’re able to go straight to a 5G type of platform, and use the cloud from day one, and leverage the best security protocols that are being used by FinTech and other industries, so we’ll be the gold standard of that.
Randy Parker was speaking to Ruairi J Mackenzie, Science Writer for Technology Networks