Technology Connects Community Pharmacies to Patients for At-Home COVID-19 Vaccine Administration

April 26, 2021
Alana Hippensteele, Editor

A new service connects community pharmacies with health care systems to support the delivery of health care products and services through crowdsourcing.

Telemedicine and on-demand delivery services have advanced exponentially since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, but this trend toward companies looking to ease patients’ health care access started even before the pandemic. Derrick Miles had observed this trend while working as a health care executive and took action in January 2018 to investigate the potential for a health care delivery service.

Back in 2018, Miles could not have predicted what 2020 would bring, when patients found themselves quarantined in their homes for the better part of a year, requiring home delivery of as many services as possible.

After the pandemic hit, Miles’ startup, CourMed, expanded to new cities beyond its headquarters in Dallas to meet the growing need for a delivery of health care items such as OTC products, prescriptions, and health care services, such as infusion therapies and others directly to patients’ homes.

“Health care is totally different today than what it was 20 years ago when I was an executive,” Miles said. “Now, health care has grown and morphed, and a health care system can have 20 locations in 15 states. So, in this scenario, a ‘mom and pop’ delivery service would not work because it couldn’t cover all of the areas of that particular health care system.”

For this reason, Miles did not seek to take the place of community pharmacies in states where his service would operate, but instead to specifically provide a service that connects community pharmacies with health care systems in order to support the delivery of health care products and services through crowdsourcing. This facilitation then allows community pharmacies that have been struggling during the pandemic due to any lack of foot traffic to bring their services to people’s doorsteps.

“The Uber’s and Lyft’s of the world want to own the [customer]. Our system is set up to be middleware, so the health care system that we work with can own the patient,” Miles said. “If you get an Uber, it’s going to say your Uber driver is on the way. With our system, if you’re at UC Santa Barbara, it’s going to say your UC Santa Barbara driver is on the way. So that health care system owns that entire patient experience.”

Miles explained that many people, upon learning of his company’s concept, assume that it’s a delivery company; however, it uses software that manages the deliveries and partners with a separate company that coordinates those deliveries with the drivers. This allows Miles’ customers to not be the patient’s themselves, but instead be the community pharmacy, laboratory, or health care system present in that patient’s community.

“We use crowdsource delivery to go into all of those different states a health care system may be in, and that health care system can look in our system and see how the deliveries are going in all of those states,” Miles said.

Miles’ company currently operates out of Tampa Bay, Florida; Miami, Florida; Scottsdale, Arizona; and Malibu, California. These locations were calculated as being the best sites for this type of operation, as data from the American Association of Retired Persons, an organization that partnered early with his company, showed that people who are aged 50 years and older make up 83% of America’s wealth.

“So, those are our types of patients. When we look at our data, the lion’s share of them are 50 years and older. Then that [sic] data also showed us that 25% of people who are 50 years and older live in 4 states: California, Arizona, Texas, and Florida. For us, we thought, let’s get our patient’s first, then we’ll go and expand afterwards,” Miles said.

In these locations and prior to the pause in use of the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) COVID-19 vaccine, Miles’ company started providing the delivery and administration of the vaccine to patients in their homes.

“The reason we do the J&J [vaccine] is that it doesn’t have the extreme temperature requirements of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines. This is especially for those people who don’t want to stand in long lines at a vaccination center or don’t want to wait for a drive-through,” Miles said in an interview prior to the pause in administration of the vaccine. “The EMT, nurse, or pharmacist comes to their home, and there’s a convenience fee for that, but the vaccine is still free.”

In Miami, Miles explained there has been significant demand for his company to facilitate patient access to the COVID-19 vaccine in homes; however, there are still constraints around vaccine availability. Miles noted that once vaccine availability is no longer an issue, his company will be able to meet the significant demand for COVID-19 vaccine delivery and administration in that city in particular.

Miles also explained that through partnerships with community pharmacies, his company is also able to facilitate patient access to the Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines, for those patients willing to drive to the nearest community pharmacy. However, his company is not able to facilitate at-home administration of these vaccines due to their refrigeration requirements.

In terms of pharmacy partnerships, Miles’ company has specifically focused on partnering with community pharmacies that focus on a high level of customer service. For Miles personally, after an exceptional patient experience at a concierge health care service with a physician firsthand, he wondered whether patients’ experiences at community pharmacies might be the same due to the level of care provided to customers at these types of pharmacies.

“And I found out that it was. So, we’ve been using community pharmacies as a family for the past 3 years, and it’s a totally different experience,” Miles said. “So, we partner with community pharmacies who have the same commitment to the concierge experience of the patient as we do.”

Through this partnership, when patients sign up with Miles’ company, the system is able to set the patient up with the closest community pharmacy that his company partners with, and then sends a vaccine administrator from that community pharmacy to that patient’s home.

“We’ve also learned that community pharmacies will deliver free within 5 miles of the pharmacy location. So, we identify the closest community pharmacy that we partner with within 5 miles of the patient’s home,” Miles said.

Due to the expansion of COVID-19 vaccine authorizations that the federal government put into place during the pandemic, the health care professionals who are administering the vaccine in patient’s home can span from pharmacist, pharmacy technicians, and pharmacy students to EMTs, first responders, and nurses. In this way, Miles’ company facilitates the connection between these authorized vaccine administrators and community pharmacies, allowing pharmacies who do not have staff available to go to a patient’s home and administer the vaccine to still participate.

Additionally, Miles explained that vaccine administration is a vertical that Miles’ company will continue to offer, even when the COVID-19 pandemic eventually winds down. He noted that patients will still want their vaccinations delivered to their homes when possible, even post-pandemic.

“We are here to stay. Even if we do COVID-19 boosters in the future, we’ll continue to provide them to patients’ homes. Or for flu shots, patients can sign up at their local community pharmacy, and we’ll facilitate having that flu shot delivered to their homes,” Miles said. “This is a vertical that we will continue to offer.”