Many patients who regularly fill prescriptions bemoan the complicated process. But behind-the-scenes efforts to make drugs available to patients can be even more headache-inducing for doctors and pharmacists.
Consider that certain prescriptions--such as late-stage oncology treatments and some hemophilia products--require health care providers to fill out 50 pages of paperwork.
Granted, such cases aren't the norm, but they're time consuming for doctors and can also significantly delay the delivery of drugs to patients. Zoe Barry has built her whole company around eliminating these inefficiencies.
ZappRx is a platform that streamlines the roles of doctors, pharmacists, and patients in ordering speciality prescriptions. By getting rid of the redundancy in the order process, ZappRx lets doctors complete up to dozens of pages' worth of work with just a few clicks.
These medications usually aren't a pill or a cream. Instead, many of them are injectable. If it is a pill, the treatment is typically expensive and can cost anywhere from $4,000 to $750,000 per patient per year.
Barry says her competition is outdated technology. For instance, the largest player in the electronic prescription business doesn't support the ordering of specialty drugs, she says.
ZappRx plans to make money by licensing its technology to biotech and biopharma companies. Barry says that in the future, the company will also consider how it can use the data it collects to provide services to other paying customers such as insurance companies and hospitals.
Frustration leads to inspiration
The idea for the company came to Barry at a pharmacy while she stood in line watching a woman in front of her struggle to fill a prescription. The doctor had electronically prescribed the drug, but the script hadn't reached the pharmacy.
"I knew exactly where the inefficiencies were, where the system had broken down," Barry says.
At the time, Barry, who was working in financial services, was looking to make a transition to health care technology. She landed at electronic health records company Athenahealth.
There, she pitched an idea for a product that streamlined the prescription ordering and filling process to company CEO Jonathan Bush, who reluctantly told her that the product was outside of Athena's scope. Nonetheless, he was impressed.
Bush says that first-time health care entrepreneurs are often jarred by the number of complex challenges--like privacy, security, anti-kickback laws--they face while innovating in this space.
"The resiliency and zeal needed to keep entrepreneurial levels of energy up through that kind of distraction and discouragement is enormous," Bush said. "That's a health care entrepreneur for you. That's Zoe."
In January 2012, she set out to build a company that tackled one of health care's very specific but big issues in her own way.
ZappRx wasn't always focused on the specialty subset of drugs. Barry initially wanted to create a patient checkout system involving a single QR code--similar to a mobile boarding pass offered by airlines today--that contained a patient's insurance, digital prescription, and payment information.
But after she and her advisers saw that specialty pharmaceuticals represented nearly 25 percent of all drug spending, Barry says she decided to refine the company's focus.
Just before the pivot, Atlas Venture decided to lead the company's $1 million seed round in 2013.
"We understood that there was value to be created in optimizing the prescription process," recalls Jean-Francois Formela, a partner at Atlas Venture. "What we weren't sure yet was: Where do you focus?"
So he was on board when Barry decided to take the company in a new direction.
"It was very clear [about her] that there was an unusual amount of drive and intensity and ability to convert people to a vision," he says.
The company just a closed an $8 million Series A, which will allow it to hire more employees and bring its product to market more quickly. Barry expects that the company will be profitable in 2015, two and a half years ahead of her original projections.
This is beginning to feel like a far cry from Barry's early bootstrapping days, when she survived on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and the flexibility of her roommate, with whom she would barter.
"I would cook the meal and do the dishes to cover my part for the dinner," Barry recalls. "You do that. You find your passion for something and you hustle."