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SALT LAKE CITY — Each year, approximately 1.5 million people in the United States are injured or sickened due to mistakes in taking prescription medications. About 100,000 die as a result.
The causes of these mistakes vary, from hospitals dispensing an incorrect prescription to people seeing multiple doctors and being prescribed drugs from each that interact negatively with one another. Or, they can even be from individuals simply getting confused when taking multiple prescriptions at home. When forgetting whether a particular drug has been taken, patients at home often double up their dosage.
TJ Parker worked for his father in his pharmacy growing up. While making home deliveries, Parker saw first-hand the various ways people taking multiple prescriptions would try and organize the various bottles in a way that made sense to them. Parker was often left confused by some of their methods.
After college, Parker learned his father was now pre-sorting and packaging prescriptions for delivery to residents of care facilities. Hospitals had long had the only sorting systems in place to try and ensure various prescriptions are taken at the correct time for each patient.
Having studied art and industrial design in college, in addition to pharmacy school, Parker was convinced that what his father had developed for nursing homes and similar facilities could be expanded to those living at home. Nine months later, Parker teamed up with Elliot Cohen, whom he had met at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to create Pill Pack.
Parker and Cohen would attend weekend “hackathons,” where students from multiple disciplines would try and solve healthcare related problems brought to them by clinicians. The idea for Pill Pack originated in one of these weekend sessions and Parker combined those ideas with what his father had begun with his nursing home deliveries.
In 2014, Time Magazine chose Pill Pack as one of its top 25 inventions of the year. Parker is quick to point out that he didn’t invent the idea of presorted and packaged prescriptions, only the technology that could bring that service out of the hospital and into American homes.
According to Parker, “50 percent of medications aren’t taken correctly and 75 percent of people who take more than six medications aren’t on the right set of medications. Most of our customers are switching from two or three different pharmacies, so just getting all their prescriptions into one place has helped us optimize their medications.”
Pill Pack operates a call center in Orem and has plans for another call center and customer on-boarding center in Salt Lake City. Considering the company is headquartered in suburban Boston and has a physical pharmacy and manufacturing center in New Hampshire, Utah seems like a strange place for customer service centers.
“50 percent of medications aren’t taken correctly and 75 percent of people who take more than six medications aren’t on the right set of medications. Most of our customers are switching from two or three different pharmacies, so just getting all their prescriptions into one place has helped us optimize their medications.” —TJ Parker
Parker’s love of skiing brought him frequently to Utah and he met two investors during those trips who convinced him that Utah’s burgeoning tech sector made the state the perfect place to expand Pill Pack’s reach. The call center reaches out to potential customers that have requested more information about the service.
Pill Pack accepts several major insurance plans in addition to Medicare and Medicaid. Customers pay nothing for the added benefit of receiving their meds home-delivered every two weeks in a roll of tear-off packets that are day and time stamped. Customers continue to pay only their standard co-pays.
The call center takes information about current prescriptions and where they are being filled. On-boarding specialists then contact those pharmacies and have the prescriptions moved to Pill Pack. Pharmacists are involved at each step and often catch potential problems that could arise from the drugs being obtained from multiple pharmacies. Pill Pack then works with the customer’s doctors to ensure everything is correct.
The technology used to fill prescriptions involves a combination of state-of-the-art robotics and human oversight. According to Parker, 300 individuals work at the New Hampshire manufacturing center and physical pharmacy.
Complex cameras and scanners can detect, based on the size, shape and color of individual pills, that medications are packaged correctly. Pharmacists spot check the process at each step. Parker claims the process is much more accurate than those found in typical human pharmacies where pills are sorted and counted by hand.
Once a customer, Pill Pack ensures that the process of filling and refilling prescriptions is a proactive one. A customer will never find that they are out of refills, according to the company. In addition, Pill Pack can also include supplements and vitamins their customers take with the daily packs of prescriptions meds.
Pill Pack has grown rapidly and Parker envisions Utah playing a substantial role in future growth.
“The vision is to build more and more in Utah," Parker said. "Our Utah operation has continued to exceed our expectations.”