PillPack expands online pharmacy with new iPhone, Apple Watch app

PillPack's pharmacy.
PillPack's pharmacy.

PillPack has become one of New England’s hottest startups on the premise that people need an easier way to manage their medications.

So far, that mission has been embodied by a well-designed — stylish, even — alternative to typical medication packaging. Today, the startup is adding a heavier dose of software to the equation.

PillPack’s new medication management app, available for the iPhone and Apple Watch, lets users set up detailed alerts that remind them to take their medications, based on the time of day or their location.

The app also incorporates an automatic prescription-searching feature that combs healthcare databases and can automatically import a patient’s prescriptions based on their name, address, birthdate, gender, and the last four digits of their Social Security number.

PillPack already offers that service over its website, which founder and chief executive TJ Parker said has proven popular with its customers, especially considering that the alternative is repeatedly filling in medication data. The app version of the service will be free to people who aren’t PillPack customers, allowing them to manage medication alerts if they don’t want to switch pharmacies.

PillPack says it’s the only medication management app that can automatically collect someone’s prescriptions in that way, thanks to the company’s probing of data from insurance claims processors, electronic prescription services, and other behind-the-scenes data providers.

PillPack can gather such a large collection of data is due to the fact that it’s a licensed mail-order pharmacy, rather than just an app developer, Parker noted.

“It’s a combination of a few disparate data sources that no one’s ever put to use for consumers,” he said. “That data exists and is out in the world. And if you’re a pharmacy or a care provider, you have access to that data to provide better clinical care.”

Combining established healthcare system practices with new-school technological thinking is part of the overall story behind PillPack. Parker, a licensed pharmacist who followed his father into the profession, decided to start his own company after seeing how difficult it was for patients to keep track of multiple prescriptions.

The startup, which is based in Manchester, N.H., and has an office in Somerville, recently raised $50 million in venture capital to help it expand staff, launch the mobile app, and open storefronts to complement its core online-pharmacy service.

PillPack employs about 90 people between its two locations and is now available in 47 states — PillPack is not yet licensed in Oklahoma and Oregon, and shipping to Hawaii is prohibitively expensive, Parker said.

PillPack makes money through insurance billing, charging its customers no fees beyond standard co-pays. The company doesn’t disclose its customer numbers or revenues, but says that it has manufactured more than 1 million medication packets since it was founded in 2013.