We’ve all been there: waiting in a lengthy, seemingly stagnant line in front of the pharmacy counter, watching the handful of white-coated, bespectacled pharmacists phone and fax doctors and scurry around from customer to computer to cabinet in an effort to retrieve prescriptions for ailing patients.
While the process is frustrating overall, it’s weighing on the health care system financially: Individual pharmacy companies lose over $1 billion from productivity loss and administrative burden from prescription processes each year, says ZappRx founder Zoe Barry.
Barry aims to make this process easier and ease the industry burden through the employment of a new digital prescription mobile checkout software. The goal of ZappRx is to simplify the management of prescription payments and information for patients, pharmacists, and medical providers. The app facilitates the three part prescription process for its trio of stakeholders by providing an e-platform on which all parties can receive updates on the others’ activity. Monday marks the launch of the app’s debut in ZappRx’s NYC pilot program, in which the startup will have its first opportunity to make its potentially revolutionary contributions to the healthcare system.
Barry first began her career in the healthcare space while working at Athenahealth in 2011, where she noticed a significant shortcoming in the industry: the prescription process. “There was an inability for patients to pick up prescriptions in a mobile format, like swiping a boarding pass or making a mobile payment,” Barry states. “The healthcare industry is a bit further behind in comparison.”
“The reason e-prescription is a dirty word is because its so annoying to doctors and pharmacists and has such inefficient technology,” Barry explains, “and it completely excludes the patient…We’ve created a really powerful took at ZappRx to engage the patient and bring them into the loop.”
Electronic prescriptions seems like a surprising niche for Barry, whose professional resume is as colorful as it is impressive. After graduating early with an Anthropology degree from Columbia College, the New York City native kicked off her first company with a friend that focused on re-selling art, called BazStraits. “Unfortunately, fall of 2008 was not the time to start a company with alternative investments in mind,” Barry says with a sheepish grin. Their most profitable sale? An original, Civil War-era flag discovered in the walls of an old house. “A cannon blew through it, it was covered in old blood and gore,” Barry shares, smiling. Turns out, the flag, which they bought for $500, was worth approximately $500,000.
Despite the successful flip, Barry’s “starter company” was ultimately a flop. After that, she experimented with a number of different career paths, including: saving bald eagles in Alaska, pursuing a post-baccalaureate at Harvard in preparation for a PhD in psychology and neuroscience, and working at Dawson Captial, a prominent hedge fund in New York. While the financial industry was on the decline in 2010, however, healthcare IT was beginning to boom, Barry realized. She expressed her interest in a career switch to family friend and CEO of Athenahealth, who hired her on the spot in 2011.
“I zigged and zagged and pulled different elements of all my career experiences for ZappRx,” Barry says in reflection.“Having a varied background enabled me to de-risk my company at different points, whether it was figuring out overall strategy or calling in some favors, learning what it’s like to just completely run something with no supervision and be a self-starter.”
And self-start she did. In January 2012, Barry left her position at Athena, with the aim of modernizing the prescription process. She solicited family and friends for financing, and successfully scrounged up $160,000 all on her own.
As the sole founder of ZappRx, Barry planned and orchestrated each step of the process. “I recognize that I’m outside the bell curve here,” she shares good-naturedly, in regards to being a singular female founder. “I realized I had a real opportunity to have intellectual property and a patent here, and I didn’t want to mess it up.”
Rather than turning to startup books or plans, Barry created her own company plan, which she dubs a “roadmap,” which contains everything from your eureka moment to your exit in four different stages. She also reached out to some friends at MIT innovating in health care, received some law consulting and was accepted into WilmerHale’s emerging company program in Boston. Overall, she spent around six months writing the program’s IP, researching what features she wanted and outsourcing the product to a tech shop to actually build ZappRx.
“I spent that first year at my kitchen table eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, not knowing when that next check was coming in,” Barry laughs, referencing the romanticized startup struggle. “I had to roll the die, and make the bet on myself.”
It’s only been about a year and a half since she has parted ways with Athena and been on the PB&J diet, but Barry’s bet has proven itself a risk worth taking. With a promising prototype on the way, Barry began to flush out her team in March 2013. Four months later, ZappRx is no longer a party of one but rather a crew of six talented individuals, evenly split in gender. “You don’t usually get a lot of startups that are fifty-fifty,” Barry says. ZappRx now has offices in both Boston and in New York’s Meatpacking District.
Arguably the most exciting development in ZappRx’s history, though, is today’s pilot program. The app will be debuted by Zitomer Pharmacy in the Upper East Side along with a subset of patients from an OB-GYN private practice run by Dr. Garry Goldman and Dr. Richard Cohen, both of whom will prescribe medication through the app. Dr. Goldman is the Director of the Ny-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, and Dr. Cohen is a specialist in rare diseases and a “thought leader” in the medical field, according to Barry.
After each doctor submits prescription information for a patient, both the patient and pharmacist will receive a notification alerting them that a new medicine has been prescribed. Once they receive the script, the pharmacist can pre-process insurance information, communicate digitally with the prescriber if any concerns arise, and process and fill the order. The app will then alert the patient when the new medication is ready for pick-up at their local pharmacy. What’s more, the patient has the option of paying for the meds via credit card information stored in the app, similar to the app-driven car service Uber. Pharmacists and doctors can also easily see what other medications the patient is prescribed across different providers and practices, as well as if or when the patient picked up the new order.
According to Barry, the choice of pharmacy for the pilot came down to its independent status and high volume of daily prescriptions filled, which is comparable to that of a national chain pharmacy like CVS. “It’s a good place to test technology in a real environment and it will be interesting to see how ZappRx reduces [the pharmacists’ and providers’] administrative burden,” Barry says.
Pharmaceutical chains likes Walgreens lose $1.2 billion dollars each year to the process’s inefficiency, while corporations like Walmart lose around $400 million annually. Medical providers also lose in the system, but in a different capacity. “Doctors just don’t have the time,” Barry explains. With ZappRx, doctors will have “more time to work face-to-face with patients in the office and spend less time doing after-hours patient work.”
ZappRx is well-poised to revolutionize the digital prescription system through its streamlined functioning and cross-communication. Barry even says that ZappRx hopes to establish a pharmacy speed check out for people using ZappRx’s mobile application. And now that Barry has successfully started her own company, she’s setting out to help other aspiring entrepreneurs do the same by mentoring young risk-takers like Olenka Polak, a 19 year-old Harvard student and founder of MyLingo, a media synchronization application for mobile devices. She also teaches her startup “roadmap” strategy in seminars at Venture Cafe, called Seed2Sequoia.
Barry’s singular piece of advice to budding business leaders is the same idea that guided her actions when founding ZappRx: “Bet on yourself.”
Below is a closer look at ZappRx.