In a country as vast as Canada – with many remote communities in the less populated areas – access to healthcare is a major issue for many regions.
Harj Samra, who graduated as a pharmacist from UBC in 2005, before going on to be the co-founder of PocketPills, a pharmaceutical distribution company based out of Surrey, BC, spoke with ITbusiness.ca and said the situation is dire for smaller communities.
“In rural access areas – even in a small town – you might have one or two medical clinics and those might have a few physicians. But the wait times to see that physician can be three weeks to four weeks. Sometimes pharmacies don’t exist. So a patient has to go 45 minutes or an hour to get to the places to get their prescriptions filled. Some of these individuals don’t have an opportunity to communicate with a pharmacist,” said Samra. “So we’ve been really focused on bringing the pharmacy to your doorstep in a sense, regardless of where you’re at.”
One such remote community, Cat Lake First Nation, recently declared a state of emergency due to healthcare issues stemming from poor housing conditions and a mold epidemic. These issues were exasperated by the lack of healthcare services available to them. The community has only one healthcare centre; a nursing station staffed by three nurses.
According to Statistics Canada, 29 per cent of Canadians have troubles accessing healthcare services, with the most common reasons being difficulty contacting healthcare professionals, an inability to access accurate information, and difficulties booking appointments.
One of the main causes of the lack of healthcare access is a shortage of healthcare professionals.
And as a means of filling the gap, PocketPills provides not only free delivery of pharmaceuticals, but also free consultations with licensed pharmacists through its online portal (website or app), by phone call, and by text. These services are currently available in BC, Alberta, Yukon Territories, and Northern Territories, and will be expanding its services to Ontario in June, and Manitoba later this summer.
Samra says that access to delivery is another major pain point in the more extremely remote areas, specifically mentioning indigenous communities.
“What we found that is even more of a concern is how some of these indigenous villages are getting their medications. They get theirs drop shipped once a week to potentially a health center. And at that point, that’s the only way that they can access medication,” he said.
While he does say that he wishes pharmacies were able to open locations in these areas, it simply does not make financial sense for them, as their client base would be minimal. But through services like these, he says that those pharmacies will not need to open physical locations to be able to serve the communities.
“It’s making it easier for pharmacies and doctors to get involved in servicing those communities. They don’t need to open up an office out there. So it makes it a lot more affordable… it’s making it even more profitable for the doctors to be able to service those patients. Same thing with pharmacies. We’re able to include technology into our workflows, that makes filling a prescription much much easier.”
Users can create an account after providing the necessary documentation in the onboarding process, which Samra says is fully encrypted from end-to-end.
Through this account, they have access to speak to pharmacists about their condition and the medication they are currently taking or discuss new medication options. Additionally, this account then becomes their point of access to order medications and have them delivered right to them, with no delivery fees.
The platform was developed internally by Pocket Pills, which employs 13 software engineers. Samra says having this team is necessary to be able to keep up with the ever-changing needs for online healthcare services, as well as to ensure no downtime for the patients who rely on it.
“We’re able to adapt really quickly. I find with these type of solutions, we need to be really fast and reactive if there’s a problem or a bug or request.”