Santa Monica, California-based GoodRx is giving consumers a new way to access the company’s database of drug prices: asking Alexa. With a new skill that's due to launch soon, users can find out the cheapest place to obtain a given drug and get a coupon texted to their phone, all just by using voice interaction.
“We want to give GoodRx in whatever the shape or form people need it,” CEO Doug Hirsch told MobiHealthNews. “The website’s great if you’re on desktop. Our mobile interface is much more popular because people tend to shop for drug prices on the go. The app is a great experience, it has push notifications. We have a texting interface where the consumer will actually text us and we’ll give them prices, but then we thought, well, Eduardo [Fonseca, developer of the skill] thought, 'I love my Alexa, let’s see if we can build GoodRx into the Alexa.'”
The skill works like this: The user tells Alexa to start GoodRx. Alexa asks the user for a drug name, then picks the most common dosage and formulation of that drug and asks if that’s what the user wants. The user can say yes or can tell Alexa a different dosage. Once that’s confirmed, Alexa will tell the user where that drug can be obtained most cheaply, as well as the range of prices at different pharmacies.
It can be a stunningly wide range. For instance, in a demo for MobiHealthNews, Alexa gave a low price of $14.45 and a high price of $225.64 for Crestor, a statin medication for high cholesterol. That’s partly because of differences between generics and brand names, and partly because each pharmacy negotiates with manufacturers and insurers independently.
The user can then ask Alexa the price at a particular pharmacy that might be most convenient to them. If they like the price, they can give Alexa their mobile phone number and have a coupon texted to them to receive the lower price.
“We’re really trying to make it available so someone can make that query, just literally standing in their kitchen, they can call it out and we’re tell them what price the drugs will cost,” Hirsch said. “We’ll also follow up once they’ve made that query and basically we’ll remind them 27 days later. We’ll say ‘Hey it’s time for your refill.'”
Fonseca, who developed the skill in his spare time and then brought it to the company, said the hardest part was getting Alexa to recognize all the different drug names.
“It took a while to make sure it worked, but after being very persistent we were able to get it to recognize 98 percent of drug names,” Fonseca said, noting that it should even be resilient to mispronunciations. “I’m Brazilian, so I have a very peculiar accent, and it still can recognize what I say.”
Hirsch thinks the skill will be a hit with consumers, but might prove even more popular with providers.
“You might have your hands full with something else, or you’re busy, and the patient says ‘How much does that cost again?’” he said. “I can just say ‘Alexa, what’s the cost of Lipitor?’ and continue on with my services with the patient. Because doctors are busy and they have multiple things going on, and this just makes it that much easier for a doctor to get to it without having to get out of his workflow.”