The growing internet penetration has kicked off the successful on-demand industry wherein Amazon, Uber and Deliveroo among others are dominant players. Despite the existence of this industry for many years, healthcare has been quite slow to jump on to this bandwagon as human touch is very important for many. However, this situation is changing gradually with online pharmacies being one of the most trending industries in Europe. And with the pandmic crisis, its growing more than ever before.
This is where UK-based startup Echo comes in. The startup was founded to revolutionise pharmacies by taking medicines to people’s homes instead of the other way around. After spending years in the development of the iPhone for Europe, Benoit Machefer joined UK-based online NHS pharmacy — Echo — as its first technologist and became the CEO. While this was the scenario until the debut of 2020, the COVID-19 lockdown has changed many things.
What is Echo? What’s the story behind it?
Echo lets people easily order NHS prescriptions and get the same delivered to their doorsteps. The startup operates with the mission to simplify the pharmacy experience by helping people with bust schedules get and manage their medicines. Also, it helps patients take their medications on time so that they can be healthy. While people work on the NHS, they can be free from stress by taking their medicines on time.
Together with other like-minded pharmacies, general practitioners, and prescribing services, Echo delivers even more positive experiences. Ultimately, this startup wants to help patients understand themselves and make the right decisions with their general practitioners.
“It is a service that lets people easily order NHS prescriptions and get medicine delivered to their door. It works with all NHS England GPs, with medicine delivered for free to patients at home, work, or to one of over 10,000 Click & Collect points nationwide,” says Machefer.
Echo was established in 2015 by Sai Lakshmi, a former biz dev at Apple and Stephen Bourke, an ex-manager at LloydsPharmacy. They realised the issues faced by life-long patients who are tired of having to book appointments each time they need to pick up their prescription.
How does ‘Uber Eats of Medicines’ work?
As Echo makes online pharmacies deliver to users’ doorsteps, it is also known as the ‘Uber Eats of Medicines’. “Like Uber Eats, online pharmacies deliver to your door, however, the consequences of getting an order right every time are incomparable, i.e. if Uber Eats messes up an order it is highly unlikely that the mistake will be life-threatening. However, if we mess up, there could be serious consequences for peoples health. That said, we recognise the added responsibility that comes with being an online pharmacy and ensure the best service for our customers in the understanding that what we deliver is not simply a ‘treat’ but rather, it is fundamental to our customers well being,” adds Machefer.
Talking about competition, he says, “We are very different to any kind of eCommerce. We have to work with the GP before we can describe medicine; our users aren’t purchasing anything through us – all the medication we deliver has been prescribed to patients beforehand. We also have additional value adds on top of this: reminders from Echo tell users when to take their medicines and when they are about to run out, so we are not only around for the short term – we stick around to help our users beyond just the delivery stage.”
The COVID impact!
During the COVID-19 lockdown in the past few months, a majority of people stayed indoors, especially those who are vulnerable to infections due to some illness. As they need medication on a timely basis to survive and faced limited access to community pharmacies, Echo claims to be an effective alternative as it supplies life-saving medicines to their doorsteps. “Echo has reached a milestone of 213.9K loyal customers, which is a whopping 200% increase in its userbase since January 2020. Also, there has been a drastic increase of 87% in the packs of medicines dispatched in March as compared to that of January,” informs Machefer.
He adds, “Since March, they have been on a constant need for more staff and we made flexible changes to meet the demand. The entire team of 178 people has been working with a positive attitude to make it successful during the crisis. Also we grew 100% during COVID-19 due to expanded operations to cope with demand.”
What’s next for Echo?
During the exclusive conversation with Silicon Canals, while Machefer discussed about how the healthcare startup landscape has evolved to meet the needs of on-demand health during the pandemic crisis, he also revealed how it could be beneficial to make Echo the next unicorn in the on-demand healthtech industry.
Last year, the UK startup that helps users manage their medications and order prescriptions via an app was acquired by the healthtech company McKesson, which owns LloydsPharmacy. For now, the terms of this deal remains undisclosed. Given that McKesson is into the wholesale pharmaceutical business, Echo can purchase medicines from it, which will cut down the main cost and create more opportunities of sale for McKesson.
Post the acquisition, McKesson will explore how to leverage the Echo and LloydsPharmacy brands. This could bring opportunities to drive Echo customers to LloydsPharmacy stores.
Could capitalise on online medicine delivery
It is estimated that just 1% of the prescriptions in the UK have moved online. This indicates that the digital pharmacy industry is still in the nascent stages. With the acquisition of Echo by McKesson, this could be a major indication that more digitisation is inevitable. Echo might reach more people and markets in the future due to the convenience it provides.
Stock photo from Pogorelova Olga/Shutterstock