Reimagining the role of pharmacists in patient care
When Nick Hui thinks of the local pharmacist, he doesn’t just see a professional in a white lab coat dispensing pills; he sees a vital partner in the delivery of community-based healthcare. The 25-year-old entrepreneur aims to improve healthcare in Canada by empowering pharmacists to provide more clinical services to patients.
Hui and two business partners have developed a secure, web-based platform called MedMe Health that enables pharmacists to schedule online appointments with patients and deliver both virtual and on-site care. These services include annual medication reviews, flu shots, COVID-19 testing and more.
“The role of Canadian pharmacies traditionally was to fill prescriptions, but the marketplace has changed and pharmacists are looking for ways to diversify their revenue,” explains Hui, who is based in Vancouver. “At the same time, people want timely and safe access to clinical services.”
Sewing the seed of entrepreneurship and venture building
Hui’s career as Chief Product Officer with a health tech startup can be traced back to an entrepreneurship course he took at UBC Sauder called the New Venture Design (NVD).
Offered jointly by UBC Sauder and the Faculty of Applied Science, the course simulates the startup journey – from idea to market delivery. Over 26 weeks, students work in interdisciplinary teams while receiving instruction from professors and mentors with industry experience in entrepreneurship and technology innovation. For Hui, the learning experience was transformational.
“Launching a startup is extremely complex, but NVD provided me with a framework and the necessary tools, skills and vocabulary to get started on this daunting yet exhilarating journey,” he says. “NVD also put me together with like-minded people who are now lifelong friends."
When he graduated as a mechanical engineer from UBC in 2019, Hui knew he wanted to build a business. He entered a second venture-building program called Next 36 Entrepreneur where he met his future business partner, Purya Sarmadi. The two began brainstorming solutions for the pharmacy space. They were joined by pharmacist-turned-entrepreneur, Dr. Rui Su and the trio launched MedMe Health in May 2019.
An idea whose time had come
Purya Sarmadi, Dr. Rui Su and UBC grad Nick Hui are empowering Canadian pharmacists to step out from behind the counter and deliver more clinical services.
Word spread among Canadian pharmacists about an affordable, user-friendly platform that could be integrated into existing software systems, automate documentation and facilitate online appointment scheduling at scale.
“Pharmacists began Googling us, wanting to try our service,” says Hui.
So far, over 600 pharmacists spanning nine provinces have signed up for the platform. In a matter of months, Hui and his team have secured six percent of the Canadian market share, making MedMe the very definition of a market disruptor.
“It’s so gratifying to see our New Venture Design alumni succeed in their entrepreneurial passion,” says DJ Miller, a full-time instructor at UBC Sauder who taught Hui. “The teaching team works very hard to create a real-world experience for our students and to arm them with a solid foundation to support informed and pragmatic decisions in their entrepreneurial journey.”
The MedMe Health platform makes it easy for people to schedule virtual or in-person appointments with their local pharmacist.
Fighting influenza and COVID-19
It’s often said in business and in life that timing is everything. For MedMe Health, the COVID-19 health pandemic and ensuing demand for flu shots last fall acted as a lightning rod for sales.
“Pharmacists were scrambling for a software solution to help them manage a surge in the number of people wanting to book a flu shot,” explains Hui. “With our platform, people register, complete the documentation, and schedule their appointment. What used to take 20 minutes to do the documentation, in person, now takes five minutes with our software and some workflow changes.”
MedMe Health also worked with pharmacists to administer COVID-19 nasal-throat swabs to asymptomatic patients. With the platform taking care of patient screening and scheduling, the only in-person task was the test itself.
“About 40 pharmacies in Ontario and Alberta used MedMe last year to conduct COVID-19 tests for about 10,000 patients,” reports Hui.
Hui and his co-founders are even more excited about the prospect of helping with the nationwide COVID-19 vaccination effort.
According to the Canadian Pharmacists Association, which represents 42,500 licenced pharmacists, a mass vaccination program will require multiple points of administration. Not only is there a pharmacist in almost every community in Canada, but a national survey of 1,500 Canadian residents found 91% of those who want to be vaccinated right away are willing to do so at a pharmacy.
“Our pharmacies will definitely be part of administering the vaccine in one phase or another across Canada, likely starting in April,” confirms Hui. “We've built the first COVID-19 vaccine-specific scheduling module to maximize efficiency and accuracy for both patients and pharmacists, and have been getting very positive feedback so far from pharmacy leaders.”
A steady and strong approach to growth
While the team awaits information on Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution plans and logistics, MedMe Health is gaining momentum, attracting new customers every day as well as interest from investors.
“We’re excited about what the future holds,” says Hui. “Plans for 2021 include hiring more software engineers and releasing more features to help pharmacies shift entirely to an appointment-based model for clinical services.”
While he has never worked harder, Hui is enjoying all aspects of entrepreneurship; a career path introduced to him through New Venture Design.
His former professor couldn’t be happier. “Success stories such as these provide solid validation that our team and curriculum are making a difference and fulfilling a recognized need,” says Miller.