Creating a digital pharmacy with the human touch

Sometimes an everyday problem can spark a revolutionary idea for an entrepreneur. Eric Kinariwala, founder and CEO of  New York City-based Capsule, explains how a health issue led to him creating a better, smarter, kinder pharmacy…

In early 2015, I woke up with a throbbing headache that sent me to the pharmacy. Everything that could go wrong went wrong. The experience reflected many of the big structural shifts in the retail and healthcare industries that I’d explored as an investor, and the challenge of building something better captivated me. I set out with an incredible team and a blank sheet of paper to redesign the pharmacy experience around a core company and brand value  – everybody needs some looking after sometimes. 

With 70,000 stores, conventional brick and mortar pharmacies remain one of the largest categories of local retail in the US. 90 per cent of prescriptions are still picked up at physical pharmacies, yet they haven’t changed in over a hundred years. 

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Customers are plagued by the familiar frustrations of endless trips to the pharmacy counter – persistent out of stocks, interminable waits, opaque pricing, and the inability to receive personalised, private advice. Pharmacies are not set up to give you personalised advice from a trusted pharmacist. 

The idea of making our customers feel looked after has a strong precedent in the evolution of digital commerce. Direct to consumer digital commerce brands created emotionally resonant connections to their products and made customer service feel tailored and efficient. However, to do that, they used technology to replace humans. For them, leveraging data to eliminate human error and variability was the best way to make their user experiences as on-brand and predictable as possible. Unfortunately, this approach doesn’t translate well to healthcare. Nobody wants to receive an alarming lab result via a chatbot. 

So we decided to flip the script: We know the amount of trust pharmacists inspire, and rather than trying to develop technology to supplant them, we built a technology platform designed to turn them into super-pharmacists – able to quickly use data to give consumers the right advice based on their behaviours and history. 

We used technology not to replace people, but as a way to make people better. This allowed us to preserve the best of the traditional experience while replacing what isn’t with the best of digital to meet our customers exactly where they need to be. We call it the Third Wave of digital commerce.

Read: How the human need to connect works with hyperconnectivity

Now, because our pharmacists are able use technology to view your full picture, they can anticipate your next question about insurance coverage, remember a refill when you would have otherwise forgotten, call your doctor to verify an interaction, help ensure your medication is delivered when and where you want it, and use our purpose-built technology platform to determine the best price for your prescription. And because our pharmacists are powered across voice, text, and email, it can all happen without endless voicemails, callbacks, or phone calls to insurers.

As we’ve grown, we’ve also seen that consumers are not the only ones with familiar pharmacy frustrations. Doctors, hospitals, insurers, and manufacturers are unable to deliver modern care within the boundaries of decades old systems and infrastructure. It is clearer than ever that the entire healthcare system needs a channel partner in the pharmacy. The same ideas can be applied to connecting stakeholders across healthcare, and we're constantly sharing real-time information among stakeholders to help them make better decisions.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in creating Capsule, it’s that technology is best used not to replace humans, but combine technology with humans to unleash their full potential. Our technology has enabled the real-time feedback that improves our pharmacists’ decision making and allows them to build enduring, high trust relationships with our customers.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. 

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