Pharmacy U

Get ready for the Uberization of pharmacy


Toronto’s independent Woodgreen Pharmacy is partnering with a new mobile app in an effort to dip their toes in the e-commerce market.

By David Silverberg


Pilly is a new mobile app allowing patients to take a photo of a prescription or drug vial and use the tool to send it to Woodgreen pharmacists, and then set a time for same-day delivery. Before filling any prescription, the pharmacist will call patients to discuss the medication and offer guidance on usage.

Pilly, a free app, has been available since January and is working only with Woodgreen so far, though the company hopes to expand beyond Toronto to pharmacies in other major Canadian cities.

“We opted for Pilly because it’s the direction a lot of things are moving in,” says Woodgreen pharmacist-owner David Morkos. “Patients can do a lot more with their phones than 10 years ago, and getting pharmaceuticals is now another service that can be made easier with the power of technology.”

Pilly isn’t first-to-market with this type of app. PopRx, which launched in Winnipeg and operates with independent pharmacies across Canada, is also well-known for letting patients snap photos of their prescriptions and getting the medication delivered the same day. It, too, was not the first such app to try to enter the market. But Pilly’s entry into the Toronto market with Woodgreen Pharmacy is another indicator of where the industry may be headed. Having Millennials use the app has been one of the key indicators of success, Markos says.

He adds that the main demographic using Pilly has been young patients under 35. “And some seniors are using it because their grandkids are telling them about it,” he notes.

Ahmad Elkalza, Pilly’s co-founder and product manager, says convenience is the main attraction to Pilly. “Because we control the service from A to Z we are able to ensure the quality of every interaction with Pilly for the ordering, delivery, or refills for patients from the moment they snap a picture of the prescription to the time the medication is in their hands.”

Elkalza says Pilly’s roots are personal. He recalls an evening with his family when “we realized late at night that we couldn’t find my son’s EpiPen and puffer before leaving for vacation. This experience of managing the needs of a busy urban young family is where Pilly originated.”

Morkos notes Woodgreen isn’t particularly tech savvy, but he felt this was the right product to align with, and now was the perfect moment to dive into digital. “Is this an outlandish idea? No. We’re still just like any other pharmacy.”

Pilly co-founder Mina Tadrous says his startup is working with Woodgreen because the pharmacy was focusing on “the importance of top-notch customer service and they were flexible to fit us into their model. More importantly, they are willing to learn with us to develop the best possible service for our patients.”

An add-on service?

Phil Emberley, director of professional affairs at the Canadian Pharmacists Association, says he finds these smartphone innovations “interesting” but there’s one critical component missing.

“We believe strongly that the face-to-face experience between pharmacist and patient is critical,” he says. “We know some information is conveyed over the phone, but some instructions are best explained in person.”

Emberley realizes younger patients may be clamouring for apps that make their pharmaceutical transactions easier, but as patients age, their medication regimens becomes more complex. “Creating that close relationship between pharmacist and customer is important because older patients need those sit-down meetings to understand everything about their medication.”

Services like Pilly get a lot of traction in metro areas, Emberley says, but he would like to see rural customers served by these kinds of apps. “Mobility is a huge issue in those areas,” he notes, “and delivery supported by these kinds of companies can be extremely helpful.”

Canada is behind the U.S. in the medication-delivery startup market. In the past three years, the U.S. has seen the introduction of apps such as Zipdrug, GetMyRx, and QuiQui, the last of which promises drone delivery of medication to San Francisco residents (the startup is still in beta).

Time will tell if app-based services like Pilly take hold in Canada.