Call it the Amazonification of healthcare.
In an interview with Karen Webster, Truepill Co-Founder and President Sid Viswanathan and CEO Umar Afridi said that the staid pharmaceutical industry is due for a jolt from technology (specifically application programming interfaces or APIs), and a direct-to-consumer (DTC) focus.
This week, Truepill, a startup, said it had raised $25 million to expand its telehealth offerings. The company has said that the funding will be used to expand its tech infrastructure beyond pharmacy distribution centers to enable telehealth doctors to prescribe medication and give their patients an easy way to get it same day.
Truepill Health, the telehealth platform, connects 9,000 physicians based in the U.S. with patients through real-time video and will leverage Truepill’s infrastructure and distribution to fulfill and deliver medications.
“Consumers don’t have to go to a pharmacy,” noted Afridi. “They don’t have to have consultations. Their prescription just shows up at the end every month. It’s very convenient.”
Added Viswanathan, if one believes 80 percent of medical visits are going to happen over telemedicine channels, “you have to believe it’s going to require a new type of healthcare structure.”
Afridi said the news reflects Truepill’s vision to “unbundle” primary care — which can be critical in an age where roughly 40 percent of millennials do not have a primary care physician.
In addition, it’s no secret that high deductible plans dictate that an ever-increasing share of the healthcare burden shifts to patients (as PYMNTS reported, patients can be on the hook for 28 percent of the bill).
Subscription-like services, such as on offer from Truepill, for, say, hair loss and other lifestyle medications, can wind up being cheaper than buying them on a visit-by-visit basis and was where Truepill got its start.
That DTC model (where Truepill is paid via combination of cash and insurance payments) stands in marked contrast to the traditional pharma mail-order model, where drugs can be in transit over the course of several days. Truepill will continue to invest in its portfolio of consumer health brands, including Ahead, a startup specializing in adult ADHD treatment, and Eve, a U.K.-based women’s health company.
How The RX Flows
Viswanathan and Afridi told Webster that Truepill can be differentiated from companies like Pillpack because Truepill has a B2B focus, serving stakeholders in the healthcare space as far flung as manufacturers and providers. The company focuses on pharmacy fulfilment activities and delivering medication to patients.
The company has said its API can be accessed by pharmacies and other customers to deliver medications to all 50 states, request a prescription refill, create patient records or request copays.
With a nod to the recent (and continuing) telehealth push, Afridi said that in the midst of the pandemic, video healthcare consultations have comprised the bulk of appointments.
In terms of statistics, Frost and Sullivan has said (as cited in modernhealthcare.com) that online medical visits are slated to hit 200 million appointments this year, where before the pandemic, that tally was estimated to be 36 million.
Drilling down into the details of the business — and the continuum of care Truepill seeks to provide — Afridi said, “when you think of telemedicine companies, they need a pharmacy to work with.”
That’s because after telemedicine visits became akin to online prescribing services, patients would have to physically visit a CVS or other dispensing location. That option might be less than palatable during the pandemic.
With the five (soon to be six) pharma distribution centers owned and operated by Truepill, the company has embraced a DTC model.
“We can ship prescriptions directly to patients,” noted Afridi, who added that “we’re fully licensed across the whole of the U.S. We don’t actually do the prescribing ourselves, but we provide the tools” to roughly 5,000 physicians.
Viswanathan and Afridi said the goal of their platform approach has been to leverage infrastructure that is geared toward eCommerce — and deliveries can take only two days (Amazon has changed our expectations about delivery, after all).
Looking ahead, Afridi and Viswanathan said that scaling the infrastructure should allow the firm to process millions of prescriptions monthly — and longer term, broaden into international markets. Viswanathan said that Truepill may consider working with existing third parties — allowing providers onto its network. The company also will move more deeply into healthcare and tackle disease management.
As Viswanathan told Webster: “Patients are going to demand this ‘new normal.’ If you experienced telehealth for the first time during COVID, you’re probably not going to go back [to the way it was] and dealing with all that complexity.”
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