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PillPack

A reinvented, repackaged and simplified retail pharmacy experience

by David Graver in Design on 04 February 2014

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Today, launching across 31 states (with additional states expected throughout 2014), a new pharmacy tool, with convenience and product design as its core, plans to revolutionize the way people take their daily medication. PillPack begins with a full-service pharmacy based out of Manchester, NH. The location delivers all prescriptions, over­-the­-counter medications and vitamins in a simplified, yet highly organized, two­-week roll. Tear-off packets contain not only your pills for the day, but they are broken down by the time of day at which you're supposed to take them. Through innovative package design, modern technology and personalization, PillPack removes the counting and sorting process and makes medication safer.

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With over 30 million Americans taking more than five medications a day, the initial aim of PillPack was to end at-home sorting errors. According to co-founder and CEO TJ Parker, a second­-generation pharmacist, "When we first started working on PillPack, our ambition was to make the end to end process of managing multiple medications simple." Parker first met his co-founder Elliot Cohen at MIT and shortly after they began Hacking Medicine, which he refers to as "a series of weekend-long hackathons designed to bring together clinicians, engineers and designers to fix problems in healthcare." They initially pitched PillPack at a weekend hackathon at MGH in October of 2012.

"The idea of multi-dose packaging is not new, but it hasn’t seen mass adoption because it’s never been designed as a consumer product," Parker explains to CH. "We set out to change this by taking the original product idea and transforming it with simple, clear design as well as digital tools that make the service easy to manage and understand." Parker had worked with similar packaging during a previous job at a longterm-care pharmacy. He notes, "The system was still designed around the needs of an institutional facility, not a consumer. While it was less complicated than multiple bottles and pill boxes, it was still lacking the attention to detail and user experience that separates exceptional services from average products."

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The packaging is the first of its kind available to a mass consumer market—a fact that's almost baffling after using the product. With simplicity being key, all elements of the design function seamlessly. "We wanted to make sure the system was understandable to our customers, the packets were easy to open for folks with limited dexterity, and the process of switching to PillPack from your existing pharmacy was simple," he says. PillPack utilizes a state of the art image recognition system that was initially developed by a company in the Netherlands. As Parker explains, "The system takes a picture of each packet and checks to detect whether the right pills are in each packet by size, shape, color, etc." The PillPack team (who touts 24-hour customer service) developed a system of robots checking pharmacists and pharmacists checking robots. The checks and balances, thorough and numerous, allow the team to be extremely confident that each medication is dispensed correctly. At the same time, manual labor has been reduced; granting pharmacists more time to work directly with customers.

It took a lot of work for Parker and his team to get PillPack to where it is today. Says Parker, "Both the physical and digital aspects of the service will get better and better over time. But our early customers are quite happy with the service and we’re super excited to get it into the hands of a much broader set of customers."

Photos by Hans Aschim

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