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Robotics and automation give Mednow a competitive edge in digital pharmacy

The Vancouver-based startup, which uses a proprietary robotics system to sort and package medications, is set to expand on a national scale

Canada’s newest player in the online ordering-and-delivery pharmacy space is using automation and robotics to build a competitive edge in the country’s small but growing digital pharmacy market.

Vancouver-based Mednow Inc., which launched its virtual on-demand pharmacy services in British Columbia and Ontario last June, has set itself apart from its competitors with a proprietary robotic system that sorts and packages medications by dosage date and time.

Instead of a pharmacist counting pills and inspecting each blister pack for accuracy, the robotic system takes and analyzes pictures of every single pouch and flags any discrepancies.

a man wearing a suit and tie smiling at the camera
Mednow CEO and co-founder Karim Nassar

“We’re building the pharmacy of the future,” said CEO Karim Nassar, who co-founded Mednow with Ali Reyhany, a pharmacist and co-owner of the Care Group of Pharmacies, Canada’s largest pharmacist-controlled independent drugstore chain. “We want to provide a holistic solution in healthcare–one that is anchored in pharmacy.”

Mednow started rolling out its services last year through its website and mobile app, which flow prescription orders to the appropriate pharmacies. The company currently has two bricks-and-mortar pharmacies, one in Vancouver and another in Toronto, that fulfill orders for B.C. and Ontario customers.

Mednow is set to expand sales to Nova Scotia, with a new fulfillment centre in Dartmouth expected to open this summer and an application for a Nova Scotia pharmacy license now in the works. 

The company also has plans to serve Canadians in Manitoba this year and is looking at options for entering Alberta and Quebec.

“Our goal is to have a national pharmacy offering,” said Nassar. “We have the logistics to support it and we have a superior product for giving patients access to pharmacists and doctors.”

Mednow added telemedicine last month to its list of services for B.C. and Ontario customers. The company offers virtual access to doctors through its partners, Tia Health in Vancouver and MediCall in Toronto.

“We want to create a diagnosis-to-delivery model where patients just have one place to go for their healthcare and medication needs,” said Nassar.

a man wearing glasses posing for the camera
Mednow director and co-founder Ali Reyhany

While sales from Mednow and other digital pharmacies take market share away from their bricks-and-mortar counterparts, the virtual model can also provide opportunities for partnerships, said co-founder Ali Reyhany. 

“Smaller community pharmacists can use our platform and robotic packaging system because at their volume levels it probably doesn’t justify bringing our machine into their stores,” he said. “And when they’re not having to do things like count pills by hand, they can spend more time providing clinical services.”

To date, said Reyhany, digital health has been focused largely on telemedicine. With the continued growth of the virtual pharmacy ecosystem, pharmacists have an opportunity to “own the last mile” of the healthcare journey, right down to the part where medication is delivered to a patient’s home.

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