Company works to digitalise prescriptions and deliver medication to chronically ill patients
One might assume that the fax machine has taken a one-way trip to the land of obsolete technology. But not in healthcare systems, says Muhammad Ali Khan, a co-founder of the start-up Pillio.
The lack of digitalisation in the medical field in Europe “is an immense burden on nursing staff and on physicians,” says Ali. “They’re holding the system together, but this can’t go on much longer.”
In Germany, where Pillio is based, nurses caring for chronically ill patients receive thousands of medication plans from doctors every week. They fax them to pharmacists, who manually enter the information in their own computer systems. “If a nurse needs a change to any medication, they send another fax to the pharmacy to replace all of that,” Khan says. The result is that each nurse can spend three to four hours per day on paperwork alone.
With Pillio, Khan wants to replace manual processes that are choking the system, creating
provider burnout and cutting into the amount of care that patients receive. “We are seeking to radically simplify the care journey by enhancing the fundamental technology that’s been unchanged since the 1980s.”
Delivering medication to chronically ill patients
The idea for Pillio took root in 2020, when Khan was hospitalised in France and witnessed the European healthcare system’s complexities first-hand, waiting in an emergency ward for eight hours before a doctor could finally see him.
His concept crystallised when he worked for a German company that was replacing fax machines in the transport industry, digitising the relationship between logistics and delivery companies. “It seemed to be a simple but fundamental value proposition that changed the way the entire system worked,” he says.
He met another entrepreneur, George Kyriakopoulos, and they co-founded Pillio in January 2022. Their original project was to develop an app that would reduce the hassle for chronically ill patients by fulfilling their prescriptions and delivering pill packs to them.
Since then, Pillio has refined its focus. Though it still serves chronically ill patients, it does so by relieving the workload for care providers, where Ali says the real bottleneck lies.
“While building the app and speaking with care homes and pharmacists, we kept hearing the same problem over and over again: paper-based processes were weighing them down,” he says. “We realised that for us to build a patient-centred platform, we needed to bring the providers with us. We couldn’t just create another consumer-facing app.”
Developing the app with customers
By the winter of that year, the start-up saw that it could have greater impact by automating workflows between nurses and pharmacies. Khan recalls, “As soon as they heard we were trying to solve this problem, we were met with a sense of urgency, and a slight disbelief that this could even be done. They said, ‘even if there’s a small chance you could pull this off, we would really like it.’”
Pillio is developing its solution directly with its pilot customers, including nurses working in nursing homes and in a German home care chain that represents 4 000 beds. Khan says that Germany has around 3.5 million people receiving chronic care at home, so it is an obvious first target for the app. Pillio plans to expand to Austria, Switzerland, and France, where home care is similar.
The start-up was a 2022 finalist in the European Investment Bank Institute’s Social Innovation Tournament, which acknowledges social entrepreneurs making positive social, ecological, or environmental impact.
Enhancing electronic patient records
The prototype has received positive feedback, and the company is preparing to launch the app this spring.
Pillio’s business plan is to charge healthcare providers for the service, eventually integrating the app with insurance companies. The idea is still to improve the overall healthcare experience for patients, but behind the scenes.
“We want it simple and frictionless,” Khan says. “Something the patient never thinks about, especially for chronic patients. They’re constantly faced with the stresses of when to go to hospital, when to get check-ups, not missing medications.”
In the future, Khan would like to enhance the use of electronic patient records that give providers a full overview of each patient’s condition.
He says that when nurses don’t have access to digital data, they more easily make mistakes when administering medication. “What happens is there may be drugs that cause complications when they are given as a cocktail. This can be avoided if there’s a complete patient history.”
Europe has very robust laws to protect patient information, and the company is establishing rigorous data security safeguards from the start.
But Pillio’s timing has been excellent.
In March, the German government released its digital healthcare strategy, focused largely on the digital transformation of care processes and integration of care pathways across providers. “We couldn’t be more excited for this,” Khan notes. “We have a head start against all competition.”
As for Germany’s nurses, they should soon have more time to do the jobs they were trained for.