DHW Q&A: Micro-Fulfillment & Telehealth With NowRx

With Carry Breese
NowRx, CEO and Co-Founder

At a time when consumers are wary of traveling to crowded pharmacies to pick up their medications, NowRx is taking a new approach to solving medication nonadherence: same-day prescription delivery.

In this Digital Health Wire Q&A we sat down with NowRx CEO Carry Breese to discuss the company’s micro-fulfillment strategy for prescription delivery, recent moves into telehealth, and why equity crowdfunding could be the right fundraising path for many companies.

Can you tell us about NowRx and the company’s overall strategy?

We originally began as a direct-to-consumer pharmacy offering same-day delivery on prescription medication, but as we’ve evolved we’ve begun to look at ourselves more as a digital health platform. We still provide same-day pharmacy delivery, but we also couple that with a broad telehealth platform and virtual services.

The whole key with NowRx is to be a full replacement for traditional pharmacies. To do this, we use a micro-fulfillment strategy, which involves dispensing out of our own brick-and-mortar pharmacies, which are staffed with pharmacists, technicians, and local drivers. The proprietary tech inside our micro-fulfillment centers makes them extremely efficient and keeps costs down.

The philosophy of our company is to use technology to try and fix the bottlenecks in healthcare that produce bad patient experiences.

Earlier this year NowRx moved into telehealth, what was the motivation behind that transition?

The way we built the delivery pharmacy component is probably the best way to illustrate that answer. We’ve always looked at successful approaches to the healthcare industry as needing to integrate as many components as possible to provide a full experience.

Some companies have tried to do delivery pharmacy, but they were mainly just doing delivery logistics, acting as couriers between pharmacies and patients. We felt that model doesn’t give you enough control over what’s going on inside the pharmacy, and can lead to constraints with anything from physician communication to inventory management.

To solve this problem in the best way possible, you need to own the dispensing, have your own software systems, and directly address these constraints.

The entrance into telehealth was an extension of this thinking. Oftentimes it’s not only hard to get a prescription delivered, but also to get an appointment with a physician to write the prescription in the first place. Removing those barriers is key to our mission of providing great healthcare experiences, which is what made telehealth a natural extension for us.

How has the pandemic impacted remote care and your business?

There’s been a few distinct shifts during the pandemic. In the beginning, there was definitely a surge in demand for our services, and at the same time we had to institute all kinds of new safety controls: social distancing in the pharmacies, hygiene for the cars, contactless delivery. This was a huge operational strain, but since then it’s smoothed out quite a bit.

Although there was a significant boost in awareness for new ways to get medication, as well as an increase in demand, doctors began seeing patients less frequently. Patients pulled back on routine checkups and preventative visits, so overall, the pharmacy business saw a bit of a drop off in volume.

We expect that to alleviate as the pandemic wanes, and it’s also likely that we’ll see a strong rebound for new prescriptions driven by the backlog of doctor visits that have been postponed over the past couple of years.

Why did NowRx take a non-traditional approach to crowdfunding its $72 million Series C through SeedInvest and what are the plans for the funding?

Following the heightened demand over the past couple of years, we began looking to broaden our reach without sacrificing quality of service. As NowRx expands into new territories, we first launch a micro-fulfillment location, which requires a large up-front investment. The funding helps cushion that.

We were an early adopter of equity crowdfunding, and this will be our third round through SeedInvest. It works well for NowRx because people can easily grasp the concept. Delivery pharmacy makes a lot of sense to a lot of people.

Crowdfunding allows us to continue focusing on the customer experience while retaining more control over the direction of the company, as opposed to feeling pressure from a VC to grow at all costs. On top of that, it builds brand awareness. The retail investors become engaged ambassadors, even in territories where we don’t currently operate, and they help advocate for NowRx and our mission.

How does NowRx view the competitive landscape and how does it plan to differentiate moving forward?

New entrants like Amazon, especially following the acquisition of PillPack, are cutting the delivery times for medication from around one week down to approximately two days. Our belief is that it’s essential to perfect same-day service. That’s what patients have grown accustomed to in pharmacy. That’s why there’s a pharmacy on every street corner.

Patients have been trained to leave the doctor’s office with a prescription order that they go and get filled later that same day. That’s where our offering is differentiated. The micro-fulfillment strategy allows us to provide highly responsive care, and even one hour delivery, if needed for things like pain medication and antibiotics that are time sensitive.

Consumers are pulling the market towards that same-day delivery end state. That’s why having proprietary software and quick-fill systems to eliminate causes of delay is such a differentiator for the customer experience.

How can remote care be improved and how does NowRx fit into this picture?

The key to success is focusing on improving care and health outcomes above all else. One of the things that people generally don’t think about when they hear “delivery pharmacy” is how it helps to solve the problem of people not taking their medications.

Medication nonadherence is a huge strain on the health system, and it has many different causes. A majority of the time, it’s due to one of three reasons. The first is time and inconvenience. The second is lack of transportation. The third is simply “forgetting” to pick up a prescription. NowRx addresses all three of these directly.

There are countless unnecessary hospitalizations and avoidable issues due to medication nonadherence, so that’s one of the biggest problems we’re trying to solve. There’s so much inefficiency in the healthcare system, and we’re excited about using new technology and delivery models to address it.

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-- The Digital Health Wire team