Aspen RxHealth, a Tampa-based company using a gig economy model to connect patients with pharmacists, has raised $9 million in Series A funding led by Flare Capital Partners. An additional investor was an undisclosed strategic partner, a health plan in the United States.
What they do
The company plans to connect licensed, vetted pharmacists with health plan members in need of pharmacological consultations. The pharmacists will be able to set their own hours and work from different locations, connecting to patients over the phone to help them optimize their medications, in consultation with the patient’s doctor.
“Within our country, 2018 is the first year we’ve actually had a surplus of pharmacists,” CEO David Medvedeff told MobiHealthNews. “We’ve overgraduated pharmacists. Dispensing automation has kind of caught up to the profession. So we have this supply of very high-end clinical talent that’s there and available. So what we are building is a way to leverage that crowd of pharmacists and connect them to these patient opportunities.”
“To start, specifically we’re working with health plans because health plans are charged with working with their most critically ill and most fragile patients and trying to provide these high-end clinical pharmacists to try to optimize therapy and improve outcomes,” he continued. “So again, in that gig economy, crowd-sourced model we’re going to leverage that supply of pharmacists to meet the demand that’s created by these health plans.”
What it’s for
AspenRx is gearing up for a Q2 2019 launch. Despite the initial product being phone-based, the company will roll out regionally and connect members to local pharmacists.
“It starts by phone but ultimately we want to create a system where if a patient needed a pharmacist to meet with them in the home … they get paid for that home visit,” Medvedeff said. “So we’re rolling out regionally for that reason, so we always have pharmacists located in the regions they’re doing business in.”
In the meantime, the company is using the new funding to hire and to grow.
“The use of the proceeds is to really build the team out, to bring on both the clinical and the technology, software engineering talent,” Medvedeff said. “And then to scale the business up.”
The company recently added Dr. Brad Tice, Pharm.D., who is the incoming president of the American Pharmacists Association, to its ranks.
In addition to moving from phone calls to face-to-face visit, Medvedeff’s long term plans involve zeroing in on specific problems in pharmacy.
“We’re thinking along the lines of specialty pharmacy, so if you’re a patient that receives a very expensive, complicated injection for example, today those are mailed to you, they show up on your doorstep and there’s no one to hold your hand through the process,” he said. “So to have a pharmacist respond when that shipment’s being made, show up at the patient’s door, show them how to make the injection, how to dispose of it, that very high touch aspect to that, there’s a big demand in the marketplace for that and there’s no network to really respond to that.”
Perhaps thanks to PillPack’s successful exit as an Amazon acquisition, digital pharmacy startups are becoming common. Services like Digital Pharmacist, Capsule, NowRx, and Alto (which just closed a $50 million round last week) all offer telemedicine consultations with pharmacists, but their main pitch is efficient delivery of medications.
By focusing on pharmacist’s services rather than medications themselves, Aspen sets itself apart, and its gig-economy approach is also quite different from other startups in the pharmacy space. In fact, according to Medvedeff, it’s the rise of these digital pharmacies that makes his company’s work so important.
“If you think about a world where Walgreens announced a partnership with FedEx where any Walgreens patient can have their medication sent to them overnight via FedEx; CVS earlier this year announced overnight delivery anywhere in the US for CVS patients; and Amazon bought PillPack, which is a mail-order pharmacy, that patient is getting further and further away from the actual pharmacy, the building, and therefore the pharmacist in many instances,” Medvedeff said. “So ultimately what we’re creating is this hyper-engaged community of pharmacists that can be deployed to meet with the patient on-demand whether the health plan needs them, the health system, or the patient themselves.”