When you’re ill with a NCD (non-communicable disease) like diabetes or heart disease, lining up at a pharmacy is not your idea of a fun outing, especially if you’re over 60. Neither is it the best use of your time if you are collecting confusing medication on behalf of your afflicted family member. In the time of COVID-19, it can be deadly. Social entrepreneurs Kiran Mathur Mohammed and Edward Inglefield know this scenario all too well. And they decided to do something about it.
They came up with “medl”, a healthcare-tech company that delivers pharmaceutical drugs directly to patients through the use of an app. It recently won them an Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) grant of US$150,000 to accelerate the company’s development. They, along with four other grant recipients, whipped a field of over 500 start-ups and established businesses in the Caribbean and Latin America in May 2020 and medl was officially launched on March 1. It has been successfully used locally since mid-January, though, by patients and some 100 doctors, with such senior medical practitioners as Prof Surujpal Teelucksingh, orthopaedic surgeon David Toby, telehealth pioneer Dr Alexandra Ames and Dr Renata Pooran having signed on.
It’s a win for T&T Mathur Mohammed, 29, told Sunday Guardian recently.
“We were ecstatic, over the moon when it was announced, but of course it’s become all about getting the work done. But where we do see it also is as entrepreneurs, very often we don’t necessarily have the support structures around us. Hopefully what we can show is that a local company can do something on the world stage. We definitely hope that we could be the start and that there would be loads more coming along with us to change this,” he said.
Mathur Mohammed who describes himself as a social entrepreneur said he and Inglefield were constantly looking for new ways to solve issues that affect society. Through the medl service, they seek to reduce the stresses which cause one in two people to opt out of filling their prescriptions. They aim to facilitate the health and wellness of those who require prescription drugs, especially senior citizens and others suffering from NCDs while limiting their outdoor exposure to COVID and reducing costs to such patients.
Lamenting that six in ten people in the Caribbean die from chronic diseases including heart disease and stroke, asthma, cancer and diabetes, the innovators reiterated that these could be managed with adequate attention to medical care, including medication.
“Especially in terms of a developing world context, we have a lot of legacy processes that we have sort of just accepted…and nobody has stepped in to say why don’t we just introduce this or that to make people’s lives easier. Both Kiran and I have that sort of mindset of let’s find problems that need solving and how can we do this in not only a Trinidad and Tobago setting, but also in a global setting,” Inglefield said, adding that they intended to extend the service to the region.
As the 35-year-old explained, medl, which denotes “medication” and “delivery” was much more than an app since it involved various people across different professions working together in their creative pharmacy model.
“It’s bigger than just the technology. It’s the human element; the service, the doctor interface through the application, the pharmacist backing, and the administrative backing as well to bring the customer experience. It’s an end-to-end platform,” he said.
The first online pharmacy in the region to be fully compliant with local legislation and regulations, medl follows international security standards and uses licenced distributors only to source medication.
According to Mathur Mohammed, to access medl, you simply download the app on your phone or laptop, sign in, go to the medl website where there is a list of doctors who use the app and select one to prescribe to you. You get a message on your device saying that you can view your prescription, along with the prices and substitute drugs. You place your order. It is filled at a centralised dispensary in Woodbrook and delivered to your doorstep within three days. There is no extra cost to you the customer as you only pay for your medication.
Patients also receive follow up counselling from a registered pharmacist on how to use their medication and may seek advice.
If you are under the care of a doctor who already uses the medl app, he or she can sign you onto the app and issue your prescription through it. You receive a notification indicating that your prescription is available and you follow the steps from there, as listed above.
Delivery is currently available throughout the East-West corridor, as far as Arima, and there are selected drop off points in Couva and San Fernando. Insurance claims forms will be available soon on the app.
Seeking to allay the concerns of the technologically-challenged, Inglefield said they were mindful of limitations faced by especially older folks while developing the service. He suggested that from their own devices, carers and other younger relatives could manage the prescriptions of elderly loved ones even remotely. There is even a feature called “elder assist” which allows a customer to simply press a button and receive a phone call from a responder who would walk them through the process.
“Our technology is really simple; three or four clicks. In terms of our current sign-up, we’re actually seeing that the trend is from the elderly. We’re seeing people around 65 sign up for the platform, so it’s really encouraging,” Inglefield added.
Mathur Mohammed is a development economist and newspaper columnist, while Inglefield whose experience has spanned advertising and marketing, tech solutions for advertising and most recently being a chef. They have been involved in developing medl full time for the past two years after the initial idea was sparked three years before that. And just how does an economist and a chef with advertising and marketing experience move into healthcare technology?
“We weren’t interested in just starting a business. We were friends before and we didn’t quite know what it would be, but we were sure we could do something quite interesting. It all started off when Ed mentioned that it was quite difficult to manage medication and wondered why someone didn’t deliver medication.”
Inglefield’s grandparents, currently in their 90s, were living with cardiovascular diseases like heart and blood vessel problems which family members were hard-pressed to manage.
“My mum and my aunt are the two who have to do the running back and forth to collect scripts from doctors, the running to the pharmacists to make sure it’s the right medication. They (grandparents) are on six or seven pills that they have to take at different times throughout the day. It’s always been a pain point because you never know when you’re going to get them, if you’re going to get them. There was always a question that created an uncomfortable experience,” Inglefield said.
Mathur Mohammed had also been observing that his mother was finding it increasingly stressful and difficult to cope with the medical prescriptions of his eighty-something-year-old diabetic grandmother.
“We knew this was a problem we wanted to solve. So even though we came from very different technical backgrounds, it was our values that drove this.”
They finally sourced help from expert advisers in technology and health like internationally-recognised endocrinologist Prof Teelucksingh and senior pharmacist Katisha Narinesingh.
The son of noted journalist Ira Mathur and the grandson of former NEMA head and a significant contributor to T&T Colonel Mahendra Mathur, Mathur Mohammed, said his upbringing taught him at an early age the need to give back to society and their company was recognised by the IDB as one which had social impact.
Bringing a tech start-up to fruition was not without its challenges. Inglefield noted the absence of a support network or infrastructure from both the private and public sectors in T&T.
“We’ve had to deal with a lot of problems that foreign tech companies don’t have to deal with. We had to be a bit more agile on our feet to get things done a lot quicker, so it has been more hectic,” he admitted.
The social entrepreneurs said they were grateful to many, including lead pharmacist Katisha Narinesingh; senior medical advisers Prof Teelucksingh, Alexandra Ames, Safeeya Mohammed; the IDB’s Vashti Dookiesingh and Rocio Medina Bolivar, and to their own families who had been a tremendous source of support.
Access the medl app at www.medl.co