Jun Seki is the CTO at Healthera, the leading online platform for digitising consumer medication and repeat prescriptions. They are the only B2B2C marketplace in the space, offering a quick and seamless prescription experience for patients by bringing thousands of local pharmacies to their online digital platform. They also provide capabilities for much larger multinational pharmacies such as Superdrug, Weldricks and Paydens.

Before joining Healthera, Jun was the co-founder and CTO of a startup called Box where he led on building a scalable solution for fashion retailers to build their own branded apps. During his time at Box, the company grew from 1 to 40+ engineers, with offices in London and New York. He’s now bringing his experience with e-commerce and retail into the pharmacy world. Here, Jun gives us an overview of Healthera and his vision for the company’s next steps.

At Healthera, our vision is to provide patient facing apps, which allow people to order repeat prescriptions and track and manage their orders online. If you think about JustEat, it’s a platform that connects consumers with local restaurants. At Healthera we connect patients with local pharmacies. We started our journey with Healthera in 2017 and we are now the fastest growing pharmacy platform in the UK.

At the moment, only about 2% of prescriptions are done digitally. The marketplace is worth around £20 billion. In the UK, roughly 1 in every 2 people are taking home long-term medication. Around 90% of patients request their medication manually from their GP, either calling them to get the prescription, or going to visit in person. After that, your GP or doctor creates a repeat prescription for you, which goes to your local pharmacy. Once the pharmacy has your repeat prescription, it takes them a few additional days to process it, and then they either deliver it to you, or you go and collect it. Behind the scenes, the pharmacy also needs to follow up with the GP to make sure the prescription is right and meets the requirements. The whole process takes somewhere around 10 days to complete and involves roughly 4 trips between the GP and the pharmacy, with a lot of paperwork and admin work behind the scenes.

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Healthera allows patients to set an alarm when their repeat prescription is due and to let them know that their order will be sent to a local pharmacy within 5 miles. 

Pharmacies then log on to our system and confirm digitally with the GP. Once they get approval from the GP they use their local network to fulfill the delivery. This usually only takes a couple of days compared to the previous 10-day process.

Adoption of Healthera has accelerated over recent months, partly due to the pandemic and the digitalisation of the pharmacy world in general. Since the start of the lockdown in 2020, we more than tripled our annual growth in terms of repeat prescription orders and our monthly active users have gone up by 400%. We’re looking at revenue of around £133k and about 120 thousand monthly active users. The pandemic has helped to drive patients to sign up for online services, but the demand for ordering medicine online from local pharmacies is here to stay. It’s the same as the overall growth in online shopping. It grew rapidly during the pandemic, but we don’t expect it to drop off enormously as services open up again. 

There are several services on offer in the online health space at the moment. These include Pharmacy SaaS apps which help to manage patient communication, over-the-counter medicine and health and wellbeing retailers such as Holland & Barrett, and apps for GPs such as the NHS app, which helps GPs with prescribing and managing prescriptions. There are also online pharmacies that offer delivery and prescriptions all in one go, and online doctors offering video consultations are also growing.

At Healthera we’re very aware of our position within the wider industry. We’re currently partnered with some online doctor platforms, which helps us to streamline the process from appointment to delivery of medication.

Unlike online pharmacies, we partner with local stores, which means we can get much closer to the patient and offer a faster turnaround and often a same-day delivery. 

Local pharmacies act as local supply hubs, with a built-in network of patients. Online pharmacies tend to work with 7-14 day turnaround times and they spend a lot of their budget on acquiring and retaining users. As Healthera is a software-only platform that uses pharmacies’ existing delivery networks, it’s very low cost compared to online pharmacies.

We’ve worked to make Healthera a scalable solution by allowing local pharmacies to extend their services and offer additional products such as over-the-counter medicines. They can also use our booking systems for things like vaccinations and appointments – services which online pharmacies can’t offer. At Healthera we’re looking at transforming 98% of the prescription market. Online pharmacies took 20 years to reach just 2% of the market.

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We aim to be an innovator in this space and apply a lot of the "Build, Measure, Learn" product management cycle. 

As part of this, we did a sentiment analysis of 2000 reviews and saw overall positive sentiment about our services. We also noticed that there was an increased demand for local and next-day delivery.

Customer research found that more than 70% of patients said they would be willing to pay £2-3 for delivery if there was a scheduled, local delivery. This allows the pharmacy to grow their gross margin on repeat prescription items. We also found that pharmacies would like to get paid per drop using their existing delivery resources, and that they would like to schedule delivery times with geofencing restrictions to make their deliveries faster.

Following these findings, we decided to add an extra feature for our early adopters. We allowed pharmacies to configure geofencing and offer paid delivery options. We also communicated with our patients to explain why there was an extra charge and the importance of supporting your local pharmacy. The feature was a huge success, so we moved past the prototype stage and released it to our full pharmacy network.

Once the feature launched, we needed to look at how we measured the impact. We gathered ratings and reviews to look at the overall experience of using the app, and we also fed back to the pharmacy so they could understand the bottlenecks in their services. 

In terms of customer satisfaction, the results were really positive. We achieved a TrustPilot score of 4.8 out of 5. A lot of the positive reviews came from patients who were over 50 years old and who were really happy with the service the app offered and the ability to order online instead of standing in the queue at the pharmacy. We’ve now been fortunate enough to be awarded an Innovate UK grant to develop our same-day local delivery service.

Generally, there has been a reluctance to charge for pharmacy deliveries in the past because the NHS subsidises most repeat prescriptions and there are a large number of patients who are exempt from paying for medicine. However, these days there is an increase in the demand from non-exempt patients who are happy to pay for a faster service and a wider range of delivery options. Customers are driving demand. It’s a win-win situation to help the patient manage time whilst helping the pharmacy to sustain their business model.

There’s a lot of innovation in the world of online health and beauty. The industry is currently worth around £20 billion, including: 

Clinical service - £1bn

Healthcare Marketing - £1bn

Private Prescriptions - £1bn

On-demand delivery - £1bn

Over the counter e-commerce - £3bn

In terms of prescription items, there are 1.3 billion being sold per year and we’re targeting upward of 600 million items. The next major addition to our services will be our over-the-counter e-commerce feature for our pharmacy network, and we’re looking at creating software for white-label, branded pharmacy marketing apps.

We would like to continue to improve our user experience by upgrading the buying journey within our app. Our branded experience for pharmacies enables them to start selling pain relief, cough and cold medicine, kids health, herbal remedies etc. Pharmacies can quickly add additional items that patients may want to buy alongside their repeat prescription. That drives additional revenue for our pharmacy network, and it helps them to move more of their inventory online so they have current e-commerce capabilities and can compete with online retailers.

When you use online software to work with a local pharmacy network, not only do you improve speed, but you also support the local community and localised services. A local pharmacy can act as a community centre and hub, which can be important for patient's wellbeing. It means they develop a relationship with their local pharmacist, allowing them to take extra care of their patients compared to online pharmacies.

People often ask us about Amazon getting into the pharmaceutical market. That’s often seen as the elephant in the room. Amazon brings a lot of innovation to the industry, but at the moment, around 80% of repeat prescriptions are still processed by local pharmacies. That means that local pharmacies already have the prescriptions and the inventory, and they are already using their own network and distributing medicine in a very efficient way. For Amazon, the cost-benefit of delivering a single package of medicine is not that high, so there is a network effect by leveraging local pharmacies.

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Aside from Amazon, there are a lot of other players in the market, all looking at different ways of innovating in this space.

A lot of people are looking at online doctors, or online pharmacies, and working towards a centralised hub and integrated systems for individual patients. There haven’t been many solutions that leverage the existing local pharmacy network and their way of working.

It’s important to understand that local pharmacies have very particular ways of working. For example, there was a deadline set for pharmacies and GPs to stop using faxes. The deadline was March last year, but repeat prescriptions are still very often sent via fax, because their systems still support that way of working and there is no easy alternative. But the pandemic, GDPR and other recent events have demonstrated that pharmacies know they really need to speed up adoption of new technology, so they’re looking for other solutions.

Working with Healthera and having previous retail experience, I’ve learnt that a lot of the existing ‘rules’ can be disrupted. We’ve borrowed a lot from the online retail and e-commerce playbook for Healthera. Of course, the rules and regulations are different, but fundamentally, helping pharmacies move online is the same principle. We’re solving similar problems and driving additional revenue. For me, the biggest learning has been how we can help local stores to adapt to modern technology quicker.