Amazon in Shipping and in Health

“Right now, one of the prescription filling robots (ROWA) is inactive. It’s very inconvenient to have meds stored in it inaccessibly when we’re trying to fill orders. The patients end up being pulled from fill until the meds are ordered again since we’re not allowed to take them from ROWA. Not a very efficient system.” – Current employee at PillPack – Distribution in Manchester, NH [Glassdoor review posted on June 25, 2018].


Let’s back up.


Launched in 2014 by cofounder and CEO TJ Parker, PillPack – back then a tiny startup – looked to help people with chronic health conditions manage their medication via a $20 monthly subscription service. Specifically, it targeted Americans who rely on five or more medications each day and delivered them their prescriptions, over-the-counter meds, and vitamins in a two-week roll of individual packs organized by date and time. It also offered access to pharmacists to answer questions.


The online pharmacy has been using robotics and machine learning to sort pills into personalized packets, hence saving money on human labor.


That was then:


This is now. Today, Amazon announced it was buying PillPack, which since its inception has raised ~$118m and gained ~40k customers, for ~$1b. That’s right up there with Amazon’s $1b acquisition of Ring, yet not as high up as its $13.7b acquisition of Whole Foods. Some suggest this move will allow Amazon to add the capability of ordering subscription drugs via its marketplace.


And yet, not everybody is a fan. The company is ranked 2.5/5 stars on Highya. Get a feel for the frustration, below:


“I changed my pharmacy to PillPack over a year ago. At first, they were great. But then things started going downhill. They would send my meds with a handwritten note in the box saying certain meds were not included in the shipment because they needed a refill and couldn’t get in touch with my doctor.”


“I called on behalf of my elderly mother to try to get price quotes and find out if they could provide her with two meds that come from a specialty pharmacy. They refused to give price quotes, kept saying copays would stay the same, and couldn’t understand that under her insurance she pays a percentage, not a flat price copay.”


“I’ve lost track of the number of times these clowns have failed to get refills or notify me of a problem with a refill. They routinely ship packages that do not have full and complete medications.”


There’s a saying – More than the calf wants to suckle, the cow wants to nurse. Seems Amazon (the packaging empire) is a good fit for PillPack (the meds manager).