Defying the ways of Irish pharmacy

Since 2013 Irish pharmacist and founder Shane O’Sullivan has been shaking things up in the Irish pharmacy industry. The Managing Director of start up Healthwave, is bringing a new automated system to the restrictive Irish market with his new
product PillPods.

O’Sullivan who studied pharmacy, before also developing his tech skills, spotted a gap in the Irish market when many of the customers he dealt with complained about the prices of prescription drugs in Ireland in comparison to what they would pay for them abroad. It was something that bothered him enough to research a different model and make prescription drugs more accessible in Ireland.

“That’s where it all started,” says O’Sullivan. “researching a wholesale cost model in Ireland – we spent three months digging into it. It culminated in this really different kind of model – it’s a membership club you join and get these really good prices on par with the Spanish and Northern Irish prices we were hearing so much about. It was really well received as at the time people were in recession mode and were looking to save – it struck a chord with the general public.”

With the traditional model in Ireland, prescription drugs come with the added cost of a dispensing fee which could be anything from €5 to €10 per medicine. O’Sullivan scrapped the dispensing fee, charged a smaller mark up in the drugs and created a club membership fee of €2.99 a month to avail of these prices selling through one ‘super pharmacy’ in Dublin which also serves as a distribution hub.

This model really came into its own during the initial stages of Covid. For the first time in Ireland doctors could send electronic prescriptions to pharmacies opening up the opportunity for Healthwave to deliver drugs to all its members during the lockdown period.

Healthwave Picture Conor McCabe Photography

The PillPod

O’Sullivan’s interest in tech drove the model even further with the introduction of a ‘Carebot’ to handle prescriptions and messaging and now finally they have launched PillPods, their latest innovation, reducing manual labour for pharmacists and giving customers an easier way to receive their drugs.
The automated system was born out of research done on a field trip to visit Dutch centralised pharmacies. The PillPods system combines automated pill dispensing robotics with machine learning visual inspection technology. The machine learning model uses a high resolution camera and is capable of identifying the full range of tablets and capsules dispensed by the robotic dispenser, detecting anomalies such as broken tablets and flagging them to the pharmacist for manual approval via a cloud based platform.

The PillPod System

“It’s the final piece of the system we’ve been building, and we think it could be applied anywhere in Europe or even further afield,” explains O’Sullivan. The system is similar to PillPack in the states, which was acquired by Amazon. “It just changes the workflow in the pharmacy. Ireland is probably the strictest country in terms of [pharmacy] regulations, and they haven’t really adopted a lot of the processes the EU brought in a few years ago.”

“could be applied anywhere in Europe or even further afield” – O’Sullivan annd the system