Pharmacy industry is finally seeing a much-needed change, Capsule CEO says

Eric Kinariwala is the CEO and founder of Capsule, a holistic online digital pharmacy based solely in New York City that is working to rebuild the pharmacy from the inside out.

The venture capital-funded startup was founded by Mr. Kinariwala in 2015 after he realized the existing pharmacy model wasn't right for everybody. 

Capsule's purpose is to give all healthcare players, including consumers and physicians, a better pharmacy experience. Capsule model is built on customers being able to easily view prices, get their medications delivered in under two hours and have access to expert advice from pharmacists in person, over the phone, on the web or via an app.

The company also partners with hospital physicians to build tools that let their practices improve pharmacy outcomes for their patients and help manage patient copays and refills.

In 2018, Capsule's revenue more than tripled in New York City and its team grew from 75 employees to 250, making it one of the fastest-growing digital pharmacies in the U.S.  

Becker's Hospital Review recently asked Mr. Kinariwala to discuss pharmacy trends, offer advice to other pharmacy leaders and explain the inspiration behind starting Capsule.

Here's what he had to say:

Editor's Note: Responses have been edited for length and style.

Question: What is demanding your attention in the pharmacy industry?

Eric Kinariwala: Despite being the second-largest category of retail in the U.S. and the highest frequency interaction consumers have in the healthcare system, the pharmacy has remained largely unchanged for over a century.  The past 18 months have laid the groundwork for substantial and much-needed change to the industry to better serve consumers.

2018 was a monumental year for the pharmacy. Conventional pharmacy chains such as CVS Health and Walgreens announced delivery service, and Amazon acquired PillPack. All of this activity is a testament to the fact that consumers are demanding a better pharmacy experience and that prescription delivery will over time become the new normal. We are excited to see the industry continue to evolve to better serve the consumer.

Q: If you could pass along one piece of advice to another pharmacy leader, what would it be and why?

EK: My advice and aspiration for the pharmacy and healthcare leaders is that we shift our focus from the historical world of zero-sum negotiations over payments and focus on how to create more overall value for the consumer and the entire health system by leveraging data and technology to deliver better healthcare experiences and outcomes.

By redesigning the pharmacy from scratch, seamlessly integrating technology and humans and relentlessly focusing on the consumer’s needs it's possible to build an experience that's both delightful and better for all participants in the healthcare system. In fact, Capsule did just that.

Q:  What inspired you to create Capsule?

EK: In early 2015, I woke up with a throbbing headache that led me to my local pharmacy where everything that could go wrong, did. That experience brought together thematically the big cultural shifts in the retail and healthcare industries that I explored in my prior career as an investor, and it inspired me to transform the conventional pharmacy, the role of the pharmacist in healthcare and the way people interact with their medications

I began to speak with other consumers who shared with me their own familiar frustrations with the pharmacy, including long wait times, persistent out-of-stocks, the inability to access expert advice privately and a lack of price transparency. As I dug deeper and expanded my conversations to others in the healthcare ecosystem — to the doctors who interact with the pharmacy dozens of times daily, to insurers who pay for medications, to drugmakers who develop novel therapies and to hospital systems who are increasingly responsible for the health outcomes of their patients — I continued to hear a consistent theme: The way the pharmacy is set up today wasn't working for anyone. Through those conversations and my own personal experience I developed the mission for Capsule: To build a pharmacy that works for everyone. Today, our incredible team of over 300 looks after tens of thousands of customers and thousands of doctors.

Q: How does Capsule's model differ from that of other pharmacies?

EK: We pioneered the pharmacy as the hub of healthcare. We have built a pharmacy platform that enables us to identify doctor preferences and prescribing habits to make sure that we are always able to get customers the medication they need. We've partnered with doctors at New York's largest hospital systems to build tools that enable their practices to drive personalized pharmacy outcomes for their patients. Unlike other pharmacies that have simply stapled delivery onto the existing in-store experience, Capsule has built a digital platform that enables customers to view prices, receive expert and private advice in real time from pharmacists through a variety of channels, including in-person, over the phone, on the web or via an app.  We have completely redesigned the experience from the ground up to delight the modern consumer and to drive better health outcomes.

Our platform also enables us to partner with the entire healthcare system, doctors, insurers, hospitals, and drugmakers. We’ve streamlined communication between physicians and pharmacists to better ensure patients are getting the right medications quickly and effortlessly and to empower physicians to have real-time visibility on their patients’ therapies to reduce friction and costs and increase access and adherence. Our model has resulted in fill rates that are more than 50 percent higher than the industry average, creating value for every participant in the healthcare system

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