February 25, 2021 - 5:37 am
A new Las Vegas-based company is working to provide free prescription deliveries to help seniors and those immunocompromised across Southern Nevada get the medicine they need amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pills2Me, a startup founded in Connecticut by Leslie Asanga, was an idea born out of the pandemic. Asanga, a pharmacist working part time at CVS while earning his master’s degree in public health from Yale University, saw prescription abandonment rates — when a customer does not pick up an order — skyrocket at the start of the pandemic-induced lockdowns. Most of the never-picked-up prescriptions were for seniors and those at a higher risk of getting illness from COVID-19.
“The recurring theme that I was hearing was that they don’t have any reliable method of picking up their prescription,” Asanga told the Review-Journal this week. “Some of these elderly people were still taking the risk and coming into crowded pharmacies. Some told me that if they don’t take their medication, they might die, so they are willing to take a risk to go into the pharmacy.”
The problem, he realized in March 2020, wasn’t necessarily about paying for the prescriptions, but rather about access: Not every senior citizen was comfortable leaving home or could get their adult children or grandchildren to pick up their medicine.
An app for that
While some drugstores have offered prescription deliveries, Asanga noted logistical challenges that have caused some prescription orders to be delivered late. Delivery through the mail can take days.
Pills2Me, which launched in April 2020, is aimed at being a solution. It is available on the App Store and on Google Play.
“One of the things that struck me was that, in this day and age, you can order pizza and have it delivered in 30 minutes, but your prescription takes three to four days — which is potentially life threatening,” said Asanga.
Pills2Me’s on-demand service is available in New Haven, Connecticut, Chicago and Las Vegas. The company has more than 160 drivers working in Southern Nevada, with a management team of 10 people.
Asanga told the Review-Journal that his startup has raised money from angel investors over the past few months.
The company is fundraising for additional cash — about $2 million — to scale the service across other U.S. markets.
Aimed at seniors, immunocompromised
While the platform provides people over the age of 65 and those immunocompromised with free prescription deliveries, Pills2Me can be used by anyone.
Customers 64 years old and younger pay a $5 delivery fee and $2.99 service fee, with all fees paid by credit card through the app, including the cost of the prescription. Delivery requests must be made one hour before the pharmacy closes.
Asanga said his startup’s mission is “to keep people home and that we have young and healthy people to deliver these prescriptions for the elderly.”
He said a lot of people have been signing up for Pills2Me for their parents and grandparents to deliver prescription orders.
Since the start of the pandemic, Asanga said, he has learned from different challenges: He was able to get a website up and running within hours, but then realized that not every elderly person would use the site.
“We learned that the hard way,” he said. “We were so excited for the website to help people, and, of course, we had our contact number on the site. But guess what? All these seniors would call us on their order status. And since it was my cellphone, it wouldn’t stop ringing.”
The issue isn’t new. Some non-tech-savvy seniors are having issues booking COVID-19 vaccine appointments online. Having a toll-free number with customer support agents to help seniors was crucial, Asanga said.
The app, he said, was built with seniors in mind.
Users can track their prescription orders within the app. Customers can see when a driver has picked up the order and can text or call the driver within the application. Asanga said that, on average, a customer’s order is delivered within 30 minutes.
Vegas is ‘home’
Pills2Me is headquartered at the International Innovation Center @ Vegas, a downtown coworking space created by the city of Las Vegas in late 2019.
“The concept behind Pills2Me is so simple but powerful. It is exactly the kind of innovative thinking the Center is designed to support and foster,” Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman said in a statement. “We are delighted to welcome Pills2Me to Las Vegas.”
Asanga, who is originally from Cameroon, said he came to the U.S. in 2010 and moved to the valley in 2014.
“Las Vegas is home for me,” he said. “When I graduated in May, I moved back home to Las Vegas and I remember saying I would love to offer this service to my local community. We saw that Las Vegas had an aging population and this is a city that has a lot of opportunities for startups in technology.”
Citing the Consumer Technology Association’s annual CES conference, Asanga said Vegas is becoming a hub for young tech professionals.
“This is a good place to live and it’s easy to attract talent to Las Vegas,” he said. “A lot of different factors were involved, but Las Vegas was really attractive for us to establish our headquarters here. I’ve talked to my team members and they are excited to move here once they are able to.”