SmartScripts: Automating the Pharmacy

There’s an easier way to pickup your prescriptions from the pharmacy and understand when to take your medications.

“We’re not your traditional pharmacy,” SmartScripts co-founder and senior vice president Sam Zoske said from the Washington-based office. “It’s a new model and is outside the realm when everybody thinks pharmacy.

“We’re just different.”

They certainly are.

SmartScripts officially opened its doors in January of this year and is a fully licensed pharmacy that uses a sophisticated automated dispensing system to prepare medications, supplements and vitamins in prepackaged pouches.

The pouches are sealed and rolled up like an old film reel. Each pouch is perforated for easy use and marked with the date and time the pills should be taken.

“We do medication for patients in a 28-30 day roll,” co-founder and CEO Todd Thompson explained. “Normally you go to a pharmacy and get a bottle for each drug, which just seems silly and confusing to me.

Introducing robotics to the family pharmacy

Thompson and Zoske both owned retail pharmacies and worked with long-term care facilities before starting SmartScripts.

It was their experience with long-term care facilities that helped develop the model of delivering medication to patients in pouches.

Then when his aunt would come to the pharmacy with her empty and half-empty pill bottles, a business idea emerged.

“We started putting medications in the strip for her and realized this could be great for our customers,” Thompson says.

SmartScripts is now licensed to sell in 32 states.

“So we roll it up and put it in this box that’s something that looks better in the home,” Thompson says. “We tried to make it look ok in the kitchen so it doesn’t look like your sick. Then we put the label on there with a software program, box it up and out the door to UPS.” Pano

Enrolling patients

New SmartScripts customers go through a 10-15 minute process where they speak with a pharmacy technician. The technician will get a list of all the medications the patient has and will synchronize the medications so they are filled on the same day.

“We are kind of big on trying to use automation to pack everything simply because our error rates are so low with automation robotics,” Thompson said. “And everything we run through that image recognition technology is almost 100 percent.”

To expand its operations, SmartScripts announced earlier in November it had raised $2.5 million dollars.

Thompson said the process of raising capital was familiar with him because he went through it with his son, who started TelePharm.

“I think whenever you think it’s going to take two to three months, it’s going to take five to six,” Thompson said. “So it drug out, we had other investors and by the time you bring everyone all together, it takes longer than you think.”

An example of the box patients receives with their medications from SmartScripts. The pouches come out of the right side of the box and can easily be teared apart.

What’s been challenging for SmartScripts?

Because of the federal regulations and with each state having its own set of regulatory challenges, Thompson says navigating those issues has been a challenge.

And because the packaging was originally intended for the institutional and clinic settings, he says SmartScripts continues to work and make sure they have a consumer product that is easy to handle.

“There is no software to produce a label, every pharmacy system today produces an individual label for each prescription, they don’t consolidate the way we do,” Thompson explains. “So we had to build our own system to meet federal guidelines as far as font size requirements and different things of that nature.”

And with the rising costs of healthcare, Thompson said they created their own Pharmacy Benefit Manager to work with employer groups or hospitals to lower the cost for patients.

“Through a foundation we set up and a program we have, anybody who has trouble paying for medication we can give them assistance,” Thompson said. “That tends to be a barrier a lot of times that we saw: Cost and confusion.

“So we tried to knock those two out.”

“And access,” Zoske says. “We make sure it comes right to you.”