There’s nothing sexy about helping people manage their meds, but earlier this year, PillPack succeeded, allowing customers to replace their unruly pillboxes with a pre-assorted, foolproof ticker tape of medicine, shipped straight to their door every two weeks.
The new problem PillPack is tackling seems just as unsexy, but it’s the next step in the Somerville-based company’s mission to make managing your medicines as easy as swallowing a sugar pill. Instead of sending customers a physical box full of medication, though, PillPack is launching a new dashboard that allows customers to better make sense of the bewildering bedlam of American medicine. And unlike most dashboards PillPack’s attempts to make pharmaceutical data relevant and actionable to its customers.
Already available to existing PillPack customers, the new dashboard has three major features: a consolidated list of all the pills a customer is taking, a calendar for tracking them over time, and a billing breakdown of what customers are paying for that medication versus what their insurance company is paying for.
None of these problems sound very revolutionary, but in the crazy, convoluted world of HMOs, even the smallest problem can be a nightmare to solve. Take listing medicines. “You’d think there’s nothing easier in the world than for your pharmacist to provide you with a list of all the medicines you’re taking,” says PillPack cofounder T.J. Parker. But the truth is, if you tried it, the list you’d end up with would probably be baffling.
You might see a single medicine repeated possibly dozens of times, each under a different prescription number: the result, Parker says, of pharmacies trying to optimize their profits by buying in bulk whatever version of a drug is cheap one week, then buying a different version of that same drug from another company the following week. Ad hoc data entry compounds the problem. One week, a pharmacy might enter a medicine as a tablet, the next week, as a tab. Add in the multiple brand names of generic prescriptions, and most pharmacy backends are total anarchy. If you take three medicines regularly, your pharmacy might have 30 or 40 different prescription names and numbers on file for those same pills.
PillPack gets around this by keeping its backend clean. “We’re not interested in optimizing our profits for a penny here, two pennies there,” Parker says. “So we always order the same type and brand of medication, and we always enter it in the same way.” The result is a clean list of all the medications a patient is taking, without any duplicate meds listed based on confusing prescription numbers.
The cleanliness extends to other areas as well. For example, billing, which is often poorly explained, making it difficult for customers to figure out the true cost of their medicines. Sure, you might pay $25 for a refill when you pick it up from the pharmacy, but does that refill cost $25 because your insurance chipped in $100, or because it cost $25 to begin with? Here’s why that matters: If your insurance isn’t paying a significant portion for your medications, you may not be getting your money’s worth from your plan. With PillPlan’s new dashboard, you can see at a glance how much the price of your medicines is being split between you and your insurer, making it clear when your insurance provider isn’t actually pulling its weight.
This can also help prevent patients from getting bit in the rear by their insurance provider. Medicare patients, for example, have to worry about the doughnut hole, or a gap in their coverage that occurs after they spend a certain amount on medication in a given year, but before they spend enough to qualify for “catastrophic coverage.” If they get stuck in the doughnut hole, Medicare patients are effectively uninsured until they break back out of it by spending thousands of dollars out-of-pocket. By allowing PillPack customers to see how much money they’ve spent on prescriptions in the year to date, the new billing dashboard makes it easier for Medicare patients to see the doughnut hole coming, and plan accordingly.
When it comes to making sense of the United States health care system, customers need all the help they can get. The company’s new customer dashboard may not look sexy, but if you take a lot of medicines and are drowning in stacks of undecipherable insurance bills, it’s a sight for sore eyes. You can sign up for PillPack here.