August 16, 2017
by Michael Blanding, MIT Technology Review
Elliot Cohen was home visiting his family during his second year at MIT’s Sloan School of Management when he made the decision.
He and his mom had been having a spirited discussion in the kitchen, and he wanted to include his dad. “I think he’s upstairs filling his pillbox,” his mother said. His father, who’d had quadruple-bypass surgery when Cohen was in high school, took a host of medications for multiple ailments.
When Cohen climbed the stairs and burst into his father’s office, he saw him hunched in front of a windowsill lined with piles of meticulously sorted pills. As his startled father turned around suddenly, he knocked his pillbox, which slid along the windowsill, scattering medications across the floor. He seemed ready to explode. “The look on his face was so far beyond frustration,” Cohen says. Apologizing profusely, he backed out of the room and texted on the way down the stairs, “I’m in. Let’s do this.”
The recipient of his text was T.J. Parker, a pharmacist he’d met at MIT. A few weeks earlier, the two of them had won Hacking Medicine, a competition Cohen had previously helped found to pursue innovations in health care. Their idea was to create an online pharmacy that would sort all a patient’s prescribed medications into packets stamped with the time and day they were to be taken, and mail the packets out in a tear-off strip.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 22 percent of Americans regularly take three or more prescriptions—and 11 percent take five or more. “Primary care is super-important to health, but we interact more often with our medication,” Cohen says. “We touch it every single day. So how can we make a pharmacy that doesn’t just dispense medication, but actually helps you manage your conditions?”
Since Cohen and Parker founded PillPack, in 2013, the company has grown to more than 500 employees, delivering hundreds of thousands of prescriptions a month to tens of thousands of customers in 49 states (all but Hawaii). The company’s projected revenue for 2017 is more than $100 million. This summer, PillPack launched custom software that helps streamline the prescription filling process and gives its pharmacists a more holistic view of customers so they can offer more personalized service—all at the same cost as filling pill jars at CVS or Walgreens.
“The point is to empower our pharmacists, giving them what they need to connect with customers rather than spending all of their mental energy checking faxes and counting a lot of little white objects,” Cohen says.
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