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Pharmacy career lessons from Amazon and Pillpack

  • Publish Date: Posted almost 6 years ago
  • Author:by Jason Poquette BS Pharm, RPh

​Someone once said that “innovation is taking two things that already exist and putting them together in a new way.” That just happened in the pharmacy world, and there are lessons to be learned.

Jeff Bezos founded Amazon in 1994 with the goal of making it easier for consumers to buy books (and eventually everything else) online. TJ Parker, a second generation pharmacist who grew up working in his father’s store, wanted to make life easier for patients to receive and take their medications. He founded PillPack in 2013 with the straightforward motto: “Pharmacy simplified.” It is no surprise that they found each other 2018 as Amazon purchased the online prescription retailer for the handsome price of about $1 billion dollars.

If the price tag of the purchase isn’t enough to convince everyone that Amazon is serious about entering the prescription healthcare space, maybe the response of the market will do it. The total value of several of the largest healthcare stocks like UnitedHealth, CVS and Walgreens dropped by about $24 billion in a single day once the deal was announced. This on top of the $30 billion earthquake Amazon initiated back in January with the JP Morgan venture. Consumers may not have yet felt the impact of this deal, but investors sure have.

I’m a pharmacist, not a professional investor, but I can read the writing on the wall. Amazon will now be a factor in pharmacy and health care that must be accounted for. They have successfully pulled themselves up to the table and are beginning to cut their own piece of the prescription pie. I wish them luck. I have no doubt they can cause disruption, but am not sure they will find the profit margins worthwhile.

What does interest me as a pharmacist with respect to our profession is how these companies got to this point. It boils down to what Zig Ziglar famously remarked: “You can get everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want.” Amazon is doing this in spades. PillPack followed suit with their convenient medication packaging and home delivery. They found a way to cut through the red tape and make life easier for people and patients.

This is the career lesson that we as pharmacists need to carry around with us day after day. Think about the job you are doing or want to do. How do you go about making it easier for those involved? What obstacles can you remove? What technology can you invent? Where are the pain points for patients, providers and pharmacists today that we can begin to eliminate for tomorrow?

It is easy to complain about problems in the prescription distribution system today. We and our patients are often encountering roadblocks on the way to serve our patients. Every problem that you discover is an opportunity in disguise!

Medication synchronization is an example of such a solution. Patients were tired of coming down to the pharmacy every few days because none of their 10 differ medications ran out at the same time. Pharmacists got involved, created a process to sync the refills for patients, and now many patients enjoy a much simpler monthly (or quarterly) refill process.

PillPack took it one step further and combined all the medication in a simple disposable packet that had all the medications taken together grouped into a single pouch. Brilliant. Not easy to accomplish, but sufficiently valuable to patients that the business exploded soon after it launched.

Whatever branch of the pharmacy profession you work in, there are doubtless problems that someone would be willing to pay to have fixed. How can you begin to fix them? What can you offer to the world? Launch a new idea! If you are looking to take your career to the next level, think less about how to toe the line and more about building new ships of innovation and creativity and service.

The world is waiting for you!