Winter hasn’t officially started in the Northern Hemisphere, but it’s cold and dreary enough in many places, and that means all those fun winter bugs are doing their jobs and making people ill. It also means that pharmacies — whether brick-and-mortar or online — are popular places, perhaps even part of a weekend to-do list that includes holiday retail shopping.
PYMNTS certainly hopes you are in good health, but if you are or have been sick, that your medication didn’t cost too much, and that the process of buying it involved the least amount of friction possible. In fact, to get a better grip on the changes going on with medication retail purchases, and how the latest technology is indeed working on those friction and cost problems, PYMNTS recently caught up with Ramzi Yacoub, chief pharmacy officer for RxSense, the parent company of SingleCare — a digital and mobile service that enables consumers to compare pharmacy prices and receive discounts and retail offers.
“With healthcare the way it is, with high-deductible plans, and prices on the rise,” Yacoub told PYMNTS, “we see significant opportunities in the drug discount space.”
Recent research supports that point. As PYMNTS has covered, the average U.S. family pays $20,000 a year in healthcare costs. That is sparking innovation and attempts at disruption in all parts of the massive healthcare industry, with its legacy systems and processes in many areas, along with its inherent complexity, presenting formidable obstacles to change.
However, as Yacoub explained, the rapid, ongoing shift to consumer use of digital and mobile technologies offers a “unique opportunity, from the tech perspective,” for change. “Apps and mobile phones are one of the quickest ways to get information out of the patient,” he said. “You can easily pull up the nearest pharmacy, and see what the cost will be.”
That is, indeed, the ideal, as practiced by SingleCare. It functions similar to a medical discount card program (not insurance), and enables those price comparisons and access to discounts, often via the company’s partnerships with retail drug providers, including some of the country’s biggest chains.
That’s not all, either. Via a mobile and digital feature, such as Drug Basket (newly launched, Yacoub noted, so he wasn’t able to give meaningful metrics on performance just yet), consumers can enter all their medications and determine which pharmacy offers the best overall value. No one likes to drive to different pharmacies, after all. According to the Mayo Clinic, 20 percent of U.S. consumers take five or more medications, while more than 50 percent take at least two.
“Consumers are able to see where the best opportunity is,” Yacoub said.
That is certainly one possibility for innovation and disruption in the retail pharmacy space. Yet, as SingleCare seeks more data about the popularity and efficiency of Drug Basket, much more activity is going on in this increasingly competitive space. Amazon, of course, is trying to build out its medicine delivery service (among other healthcare initiatives from the eCommerce and logistics giant), while chains such as CVS, Walgreens and Walmart beef up their appeal via more health services at their pharmacies.
Kroger, meanwhile, launched its Rx Savings Club, which aims to significantly reduce the cost of prescription drugs for customers across the country. The program adds to the retailer’s Wellness Your Way platform, and was developed in partnership with GoodRx. Through the club, customers have access to discounts on commonly prescribed, generic medications for widespread conditions in the U.S., including diabetes, asthma, mental health issues, women’s health concerns, gastrointestinal health and heart health. The program provides up to 85 percent savings on thousands of prescriptions.
For SingleCare, its key future endeavors in innovation and disruption rely heavily on data and analysis. That part of the business is so important, in fact, that instead of farming those tasks out to a third-party vendor, the company has its own in-house analytics shop, Yacoub noted.
“We can do it in real time,” he said. Of course, he added, it helps that SingleCare is operated by a pharmacy-focused company, and that the executives have ample pharmacy and healthcare experience.
How much of an advantage that will prove to be is not yet clear, but it does show the ways to do disruption and innovation in this space. With an aging population, and healthcare costs on the rise, one can bet that there will be ample innovation to come.