Pharmacies across Canada now have a new digital way to fill prescriptions that has the potential to cut down on wait times for patients and streamline the prescription process, thanks to a new Canadian-made web app.

Pillz is a prescriptions-ordering app created by St. John’s, Newfoundland healthcare practitioner Mohammad Taher, that is now available across Canada and will allow pharmacists to receive and fill prescriptions through the app without patients having to physically come into the pharmacy before its time to pick-up the prescription.

“The process of getting medical prescriptions filled is very time consuming and difficult,” Taher told ITBusiness.ca, “looking at my patients and the delays I thought, there has to be a better way…[Pillz] is a way to streamline the process, and avoid multiple trips to the pharmacy.”

Making pick-up easy

The app works similar to Ritual, the food-based ordering app that allows users to pre-order food and have it ready for pick up when they arrive at the restaurant. Pillz allows users to take a photo of their official paper prescription in the app, choose the nearest pharmacy and once the prescription is filled the user is notified and they can pick it up.

For Taher, a radiation therapist in St. John’s, the creation of Pillz was very personal, he came up with the idea as he watched his aging parents and clients have to go through a prescription filling process that he calls time consuming and difficult, especially for people who are sick and might struggle to physically go to a pharmacy.

“I’ve been working in healthcare for the past six years and as I grew older and my parents grew older they had more prescriptions as did my patients,” he says, “Pillz abides by regular standards, still keeps the healthcare process in check, it just shortens the time…people can just check the app to see if their prescription is ready.”

Taher began testing Pillz in April and faced some initial struggles when his home province pushed back with the Newfoundland Pharmacy Board telling pharmacists they couldn’t accept prescriptions from the app because they needed the physical paper copy before filling. Taher argues that Pillz still requires the paper copy but it simply “expedites” the process and ensures that patients don’t have to wait around for hours.

However the prescription app faces some competition when it comes to services like PrescribeIT, which works with Health Canada and launched earlier this year across six provinces including Newfoundland, allowing doctors to electronically send prescriptions to pharmacists. A number of provinces are also working to create their own electronic health record systems which would provide a similar service.

Taking security into account

As healthcare records, such as prescriptions, move into the digital world its logical that some people will question whether their extremely personal and private health information will still be secure.

Taher assures that his app is safe to use; while it is made to work on mobile devices, Pillz is built as a web-based app in order to ensure increased privacy and security. Users have to register their OHIP and benefits plan online in order to use the service and the prescription photo is taken securely through the app. And patients are still required to show the paper prescription and present identification to the pharmacist upon pick-up.

Early days

Pillz is still a young app, which only recently became more generally available to Canadians this October, and during its ‘testing’ period that started in April only 180 users created a profile on the site, with about 70 people actually got prescriptions filled.

It’s currently available across Canadian provinces, except Quebec and the northern territories, and works with major pharmacy chains as well as independent pharmacies. Taher says it is mainly focused on growing its Ontario market since the province is home to more than half of the 10,000 pharmacies located in Canada. Most of the pharmacies participating so far have been open to this new app process, even those in Newfoundland, despite what the pharmacy board said, have realized how much quicker and easier it is, he says.

With its sights set on changing the way people get prescriptions filled, it still has a long way to go in order to be profitable, Taher told ITBusiness.ca that it will always be free for user but, “Pillz is currently bootstrapped and is continuously looking for the right investment,” and in order to make money it will charge a small subscription fee to pharmacies to join the ‘Pillz Network’ similar to how PrescribeIT and other electronic health record services operate.

Even in this early stage Taher says that pharmacists have had positive feedback so far saying that it benefits their work, “they see the benefits to the patient but as pharmacists they also have more time, whether its to look up prescriptions, check medical records, do research on patients or simply help more people…in this process all the information is already provided, its basically expediting the process for pharmacy and patient”
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