How CVS and Walgreens Might Compete with PillPack

JUNE 07, 2015

The rise of multi-dose drug dispensing (MDD) systems over traditional single dose vials (SDV) has been in the news lately. This has largely stemmed from the success of PillPack, a pharmacy startup that is changing how patients envision taking their medications.

PillPack demonstrates that pharmacists can be disruptors in the health care space, and the profession could use a disruption. However, the media has been quick to identify PillPack as a new venture and paradigm in pharmacy practice, even though it’s not.

Independent pharmacies, albeit in the realms of long-term care and assisted living, have been using MDD systems to deliver medications to patient homes. A few companies expanded these services to also box and package these medications for the community pharmacy setting, as well.
What also haven’t been discussed are the previous forays by national retail pharmacy chains into the same business PillPack models.

Walgreens acquired a similar MDD service known as DailyMed in late 2011 and rolled it out to its customers years ago. However, this service seems to have been dropped in the past year. Since then, Walgreens seems to have made some partnerships in limited areas, though it has not promoted them widely and has treated them more like pilot projects.

Walgreens has not provided any insight on why it has stopped offering DailyMed online or how the program performed. Whatever occurred behind the scenes may determine how companies succeed or fail in terms of MDD systems.
The same can be said for a recent initiative at CVS that looks very similar to PillPack. CVS did not comment on where it plans to take this business venture, but given the attention PillPack has garnered and overall patient desires, the pharmacy chain may see this as a good time to invest in such a project. However, it has not highly publicized this venture and may be viewing it as a pilot project prior to rolling it out to a wider customer base.

On a sidenote, CVS recently acquired Omnicare, one of the country's largest providers of pharmaceutical care in the elderly population. Will CVS seek to combine Omnicare services and programs with an MDD system similar to PillPack in order to grab significant market share?

Comparison of Pharmacy Packaging Initiatives.png

Is the slow rollout that bigger pharmacy chains seem to prefer a bad thing? It may be the defining difference between the success of PillPack and the seemingly less successful uptake of MDD systems among large retail pharmacies. 

The larger chains do not seem to be advertising their MDD services as heavily and may be spending too much time testing and piloting them. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but in the realm of rapid startup development, it can be argued that the less time larger retail pharmacy chains spend on rolling out their MDD services, the more time other ventures have to gain a market hold. This is evident in PillPack’s recent announcement concerning plans to open physical pharmacy spaces in the near future and compete in a saturated retail market.
If any retail pharmacy wants to compete with PillPack or expand in this sphere on a national level, the time is now. The key will be patient acquisition and retention, as well as leveraging the MDD service to demonstrate that the pharmacy cares about its patients.

Timothy Aungst, PharmD
Timothy Aungst, PharmD
Timothy Dy Aungst, PharmD, is an assistant professor of pharmacy practice at MCPHS University. He graduated from Wilkes University Nesbitt School of Pharmacy and completed a PGY-1 Pharmacy Practice Residency at St. Luke's University Hospital, and then a Clinical Geriatric Fellowship at MCPHS University. He is passionate about the rise of technology in health care and its application to pharmacy. He has published primarily on the role of mobile technology and mHealth, and made multiple national and international presentations on those topics. He blogs at, and you can find him on Twitter @TDAungst.
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