Who Will Win the Race for On-Demand Drug Delivery?

MARCH 14, 2016
There’s no doubt that patients hate waiting in line for their medications. The advent of drive-thru pharmacies only augments the on-demand mentality of those who want to get what they need as fast as possible.
 
This mentality is heavily disrupting traditional service models, and companies are actively trying to capitalize on it. We now have Uber for transportation, Grubhub for food delivery, and Amazon for just about everything else.
 
Meanwhile, a slew of startups are pursuing a way to deliver medication without the wait at the pharmacy.

These startups include:
  • TinyRx, which is partnering with independent pharmacies to deliver medications through on-demand, same-day services in San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, and other major cities in California, as well as mail-order services nationally.
  • ZipDrug, which is partnering with local pharmacies to provide on-demand drug delivery services to New York City.
  • PopRx, which is offering medication delivery services in selected areas of Canada.
  • ScriptDash, which is based in California and promises to have couriers deliver medications from local pharmacies.
  • Nurx, which wants to provide birth control products to patients and will have its own team of prescribers who patients can consult in order to obtain a prescription.
All of these startups offer different variations of the same service, which includes the ability to submit a picture of a new prescription (or prescription bottle for a refill) or have the prescriber send the script through the service to the independent pharmacy for processing and delivery. Most of them are currently relegated to working with independent pharmacies to handle the grunt work while they take care of marketing and coordinating the services. 

In some ways, these services may be beneficial for an independent pharmacy that is trying to build a larger patient base by partnering with a startup to implement a delivery service. There have been some concerns, however, which I’m sure many pharmacists are apt to point out.

First and foremost, skirting pharmacy visits further degrades the pharmacist-patient relationship. Patients may not remember to ask questions about their medications, and pharmacists will not be able to provide important patient education and counseling. Other issues that are sure to crop up include controlled substance delivery and hard-copy prescription management. 

While the current drug-delivery startups are primarily working with independent pharmacies, Walgreens is also experimenting with these services through a partnership with a California-based startup to provide same-day delivery services through the Walgreens mobile app. 

I have seen drug-delivery startups pop up significantly in the past year, though I figured it was only a matter of time before we saw an Uber for the pharmacy world. Ultimately, only a few of these companies will take off, and the winner will probably be the first to figure out the laws in all states on drug delivery and processing, build a substantial partnership with health care providers across the country, and not face any significant problems with service and delivery drivers.

One last thing that sticks firmly in my mind is the fact that I haven’t seen any of the new startups involve pharmacists in the development of their services. I seriously wonder whether that will hinder these companies down the road, as they may lack insight on how pharmacies run and what they encumber throughout the day.

That just might make on-demand delivery a difficult service to dispense.

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 TheDigitalApothecary.com, and you can find him on Twitter @TDAungst.
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