For most Americans, picking up a prescription involves a stop by the local pharmacy every month or so.
And while shoppers can go online for everything from clothing to groceries, that isn’t the case yet for prescription drugs.
That’s starting to change. In June, Amazon announced its plans to acquire PillPack, a small startup that mails prescriptions to people who take multiple medications for a reported $US1 billion. The news sent a whole host of pharmaceutical and drug-wholesaler stocks tumbling at the time.
So we decided to take a firsthand look at PillPack’s prescription service to get a sense of how it works, and to better understand how it could fit into Amazon’s future healthcare ambitions.
My journey started through PillPack’s website, where I input some information about myself and set up an account.
Then, it was time to plug in my pills. I don’t have any prescriptions, so I skipped ahead to vitamins, picking a multivitamin and an omega-3 supplement and an iron supplement I later removed.
Then it was time to pick out my dispenser. For an extra $US29, I could get a premium dispenser in different colours, but because I was only testing PillPack out for a month, I went for the disposable version.
After that, I got sent to my prescription landing page, which showed that my account was processing. Later that day, I got a call from a PillPack representative asking if I had any questions. The rep said that it may take some time for my prescriptions to sync up. If I had multiple prescriptions that had different refill times, it may have taken extra time for all of them to sync up and show up in my monthly dispenser. Because I was getting vitamins, PillPack billed me directly for those, and the charge didn’t hit my card until a week before my box arrived.
A few weeks later, the pills arrived in an unassuming brown package.
As I opened it, I got my first clue about what was in store.
Inside the package was the dispenser, instructions, and a business card with information about how to reach PillPack’s pharmacists. My box and the card let me know that my pills were coming from PillPack’s Brooklyn pharmacy.
The instructions walked me through the basics of how to use the dispenser, including an explanation of the timestamps on each packet.
With that, I was ready to go. My first pack was set to be taken at 8 a.m. on July 24.
Once that was done, I took a moment to check out the set-up. The dispenser had a much different feel from the pill canisters I’ve picked up from pharmacies in the past. It had information about what prescriptions were inside, how long I’d have until the pills ran out, and details about how to reach PillPack if I had more questions.
The only branding from PillPack was a small logo on the bottom left corner.
On one side of the pack, there was information about what’s inside and when it’s meant to be taken. On the reverse, I could see through the transparent packet what pill I had inside.
As I tore into the packet, I was struck by how easy it was (so long as i tore along the left side of the pack — my first attempt of ripping it open from the top did not go quite as well).
That accessibility is key when thinking about PillPack’s main demographic. PillPack’s approach of combining multiple prescriptions into individually labelled packs puts it in a good spot to handle prescriptions for elderly populations who tend to have more prescriptions. PillPack works with Part D and Medicare Advantage plans to provide prescriptions to members.
My morning pack contained three pills — two fish oil supplements, one multivitamin — while my evening pack contained an additional pair of fish oil pills.
I decided to take a look inside my dispenser, and found the rest of my month’s worth of packs rolled up inside. I was surprised to see a pop of blue standing in contrast to the simple white appearance of the pills and the outside of the box.
The acquisition of PillPack was Amazon’s first big step into the pharmaceutical business. “PillPack’s visionary team has a combination of deep pharmacy experience and a focus on technology,” Jeff Wilke, Amazon’s CEO of worldwide consumer, said in a release in June announcing the deal.
Source: Business Insider
PillPack’s main physical pharmacy is in Manchester, New Hampshire, and the company can ship medications anywhere in the US except for Hawaii and Puerto Rico. For Amazon, that clears up a couple of hurdles that had hindered its ability to get into the pharmaceutical market. Most importantly, Amazon could use PillPack to ship out medications as an alternative to going to a brick-and-mortar pharmacy.
Source: Business Insider
Overall, the experience, from registering online to getting the shipment in the mail, was simple — no pharmacy visit required — and I could see the benefit of having my doses separated out by when I should be taking them. I can see where it might be a big help for people managing a number of complicated prescriptions. One thing is clear: With Amazon officially in the game, the pharmaceutical industry is in for a shakeup, and it could have a big impact on the way we get our prescription drugs.
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