Health IT

With daily pill packets and smart software, PillPack redesigns the retail pharmacy experience

Robots and a good sense of design have changed the way pharmacist TJ Parker works – and the way his customers manage their prescriptions. Today he and co-founder Elliot Cohen are launching PillPack, a mail-order pharmacy aimed at making it less burdensome for people to manage their medications, and hopefully more likely that they’ll take […]

Robots and a good sense of design have changed the way pharmacist TJ Parker works – and the way his customers manage their prescriptions.

Today he and co-founder Elliot Cohen are launching PillPack, a mail-order pharmacy aimed at making it less burdensome for people to manage their medications, and hopefully more likely that they’ll take them as directed.

Parker’s family owns a pharmacy that serves long-term care facilities, where many patients have daily medication regimens that involve several different pills. It was there that he saw the pain points of people who had to take multiple prescriptions – several visits to the pharmacy each month, sorting the pills and then remembering to take each one on the right day and on time.

While finishing up pharmacy school, Parker met Cohen, an MIT MBA, at a H@cking Medicine event. Together they came up with the concept of PillPack and got to work on a solution for the 30 million Americans who take five or more medications a day.

“Our whole ethos and thesis is that using design and technology to make something simple will be the way to make someone healthy,” Parker explained.

Customers use PillPack’s website to enter their prescription, physician and insurance information. They pay a flat fee of $20 monthly on top of their standard co-pays to essentially have PillPack do the grunt work for them.

The company ships all of a customer’s prescriptions, over-the-counter medicines and vitamins in a 14-day supply of individual packets that come in a roll. Each packet is printed with the contents and instructions on when to take the pills.

“Right now the onus of making sure you don’t run out is on the patient; we’ve made a concerted effort to be in charge of that,” Parker explained.

Four weeks before a customer’s prescription runs out, PillPack’s pharmacists contact a customer’s doctor. If prior authorization is needed, they’ll contact the insurance company. And if a customer needs to add a new prescription to an order, PillPack overnights an interim supply and then automatically includes the new drug in the next 14-day shipment.

The company is able to provide that kind of personalized attention, and customer service by phone, because of the back-end software it built. It also uses automated machines to pack and report the contents of each customer’s roll (but a pharmacist double-checks them at each step, the company assures).

The PillPack team went through the TechStars Boston program in the spring and has been testing the service with customers of the Parker’s family pharmacy since then. Parker said they began shipping from their own pharmacy in the fall.

With the help of a $4 million investment round from Atlas Venture, Founder Collective and angel investors, PillPack has become licensed to operate in 31 states and anticipates adding more to that list in 2014. It accepts most prescription drug insurance plans but as of now doesn’t accept Medicaid outside of the state of New Hampshire, Parker said.

“There are other people doing facets of what we do,” he said, “but no one’s really putting all of it together, turning pharmacy into a service.”