Stu Libby had to catch a plane to Europe in a few hours. While packing, he suddenly realized he only had two days’ worth of his heartburn medication for the four-day trip. He recalls, “I had to go to the pharmacy right then. There was a long line and it was a real hassle. There’s on-demand everything these days – why is there not an easier solution to get your medications delivered in an accountable fashion?”
That experience was part of the inspiration for founding Zipdrug, a Manhattan-based startup that will deliver medications to patients’ homes for a $10 fee. What separates the platform from other medication delivery services is speed and convenience: “We use technology to make [delivery] efficient, more transparent, and keep the patient more in the loop about how long it will take before they get their medication,” says Libby.
Patients can track their order on a live map and even message the delivery person to see when the package will arrive. Zipdrug delivery bikers are HIPAA-trained, background checked and drug screened. Says Libby, “We select the best of the best because they’re going to be dealing with people’s medications. With healthcare, there is a lot of sensitivity around data and privacy.”
While there are certainly times when patients need to pick up or refill a prescription right now, there is an even larger problem that Zipdrug aims to address: medication non-adherence. “This costs our healthcare system almost $300 billion on an annualized basis and 125,000 lives every single year,” Libby says. “One in three scripts that are written never get filled, and our research suggests that convenience is a driver of that. We can really produce significant lift in terms of adherence. That’s how we win.”
Libby father’s had a harrowing experience several years ago that illustrated for him the failures and inconvenience of the healthcare system:
“My dad suffered from a massive cardiac event. It was a bad situation, but thankfully he survived and they got him on the right medication. He became more and more stable, so they eventually discharged him to a cardiac rehab facility. Part of what caused him to have a cardiac event was that he wasn’t on the right medication and wasn’t bring completely adherent. Also, when they discharged him from the hospital to the rehab facility they didn’t send over that medication. After hearing all the doctors and nurses talk about how important it is to take medications and stay adherent, the fact that they would send him away to the rehab facility without medications on hand – I couldn’t believe that that would happen.”
We live in an on-demand world: movies, transportation, groceries and more are at our fingertips when and where we need them. From the start, healthcare has been centralized, conducted at the doctor’s convenience instead of at the patient’s, and controlled by strange insurance regulations. As a result, everything takes a whole lot of time, from seeing the doctor to filling prescriptions and scheduling follow-up visits or referrals. Could the new trend of technology-enables, on-demand healthcare become sustainable and drive meaningful change?
Zipdrug, for one, believes in that idea. “We’re seeing all different types of patients from different geographic areas, different ages, different conditions,” says Libby. “I really believe that, for a lot of folks, it’s worth the fee for them not to have to go to the pharmacy. The median wait time at a pharmacy these days is 45 minutes, which is a lot of time, especially if you’re not feeling well. I really think it’s a convenience play for a lot of folks.”
Libby has larger ideas for the role that on-demand prescription delivery services can play in the healthcare system: “What I’m hoping is that this ultimately becomes a mechanism of treatment for healthcare providers because this will actually drive adherence which will then, in turn, drive better outcomes and reduce readmissions.”
Libby noted that because points of care are extending further out from traditional hospitals and doctors’ offices, there is a significant role for telemedicine or on-demand house calls. “Think of a situation where you have a patient who’s being diagnosed, assessed and treated remotely or not in a physical brick-and-mortar doctor’s office but in their physical home or office. It just makes sense for them to be able to get the diagnosis and prescription from the pharmacy in the comfort of their own home. I don’t see why there shouldn’t be a subsequent system of delivery a few minutes after completing that visit with the telemedicine or at-home provider.”
Medication delivery services like Zipdrug could soon integrate with on-demand doctor services such as Pager, a San Francisco-based startup that can send a board-certified doctor to your house, office or hotel within two hours. “If a Pager doctor in San Francisco visits a patient and writes a prescription, that patient could have the drug delivered through Zipdrug,” says Libby.
While its ambitions are high, Zipdrug is still a brand new service. “We released the beta, pilot version in the middle-to-late part of July, so it has been a short time. Each week is significantly larger than the previous week. It speaks to the fact that we’re delivering a superior customer experience and patients will embrace it.”
Despite that excitement, there are a number of tough, unanswered questions about on-demand healthcare models. Is the quality of care the same and do the economics work out? There is an advantage to our traditional, centralized healthcare system for the most serious health needs: all of the smart people you could want to see, and all of the technologies you could need, are in the same place. What if you think you have heartburn, but it turns out to be more serious and those minutes spent at home with an on-demand doctor are minutes you could have been attended to for heart failure in the hospital?
At the same time, most observers of healthcare would agree that there is room for moving less serious healthcare episodes out of hospitals and even urgent care clinics. For routine or simple needs that can be addressed at home in a few minutes, perhaps the best solution is to have the doctor or drug come straight to you. Waiting in line just cannot compete.
NOTE: The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Healthcare, Inc. and HealthCare.com.