By Ezra L Shapiro
Brand name pharmacies have long held a competitive advantage in the distribution and pricing of prescription medication. Consumers assume that the cost differential between one pharmacy and another is negligible. It is not.
One family startup company aims to dispel that assumption by making prescription pricing readily available across the country.
The Khoshnevis are a family of five with roots in Shiraz, Iran. Following in their father’s footsteps, brothers Amir and Ali went into the medical field as optometrists.
After a few years practicing in Charlotte, North Carolina, they noticed that some patients appeared to be failing to take their medication. Amir explains that high costs are the number one reason for patients not taking their medication in the United States.
Ali and Amir began asking each patient how much their prescription cost them. The difference between what patients were paying at one pharmacy to another located next door could be anywhere from $10 to $100.
Pharmaceutical pricing defies conventional retail models: Big-box retailers are often more expensive than smaller pharmacies, who use a simple multiplier of 2X or 3X to markup the prescriptions they sell. Consumers without prescription drug coverage–up to 70 million Americans– are hit especially hard by the price discrepancy.
Driven by the belief that “being a doctor is about going beyond the offices walls. It’s about following someone’s health all the way through,” the Khoshnevis set out to make it easier to learn about prescription costs.
Starting in October of 2011 they began building a program called WeRX with consultation from their college-age cousins Meera Clark, Imran Cronk and Ashcon Livingston, and their lawyer, David Bridgemond.
WeRx is built on a principle whose rise is concomitant with mobile technology’s increasing sophistication. That principle is called crowdsourcing.
Crowdsourcing is that idea that, rather than the developer entering in hundreds of thousands of data points to a program, it should enroll users.
GasBuddy is a better-known story of crowdsourcing success. Users enter into the application how much they pay per gallon at a gas station; subsequent users make their choices based on those prices and enter their own price at the pump.
Programs that employ crowdsourcing invest in users’ rational selflessness: they enter data because it allows for a more comprehensive picture of costs.
The Khoshnevis’ are wholesale believers in crowdsourcing. While the initial data points—over 300,000 including pharmacy location and drug costs—were entered by the developers, they hope that, as the application spreads, more people will enter data themselves.
WeRx allows users to look up their location—either through city, state, or zip, or through geotagging—and the drug they are searching for. The results display nearby pharmacies and costs for both the prescription drug and its generic counterpart.
The website went public last week, after a few months of private beta testing; a mobile app is a month or so away, according to Ali.
While WeRx is embryonic, early results are promising: it recently won a $4,500 grant through the Startup RockOn Challenge, a competition involving several local startups.
The brothers believe the idea behind WeRx–that patients can and should know how to get the best deal for their healthcare—has wide-ranging implications. “At WeRx, we hope we can sustain a movement that will hopefully change health care for the better.”
A technological outgrowth of the ideal of universal healthcare, WeRx hopes to affect other areas medical field, from the length and cost of trips to various hospitals to the opening of a more direct channel of communication between patients and doctors.