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Think back to the last time you had a prescription filled. Did you take the time to read the information booklet or ask the pharmacist questions? Most of us don’t. Pharmi, a startup on High Tech Campus, recognizes that no matter how good the information provided by pharmacies, it's information overload for most patients. So, they developed a novel digital solution.

Patients usually have limited follow-up care after a new prescription. This can be problematic and, in some cases, downright dangerous. Many people don’t know how to take their medications correctly. Each year in the Netherlands, this leads to tens of thousands of avoidable hospitalizations and more than 1,000 deaths. Pharmi wants to change these statistics. The company believes that at least a quarter of these hospitalizations are avoidable.

Pharmi has built a digital application for home follow-up care for medications called MedicijnWijs, or MedsWise. While this solution may sound simple, it is anything but. It is a complex mobile app that provides 24/7 information and digital care for almost all medications available on the Dutch market. In addition, it provides more intensive support for issues, such as reducing the use of opioids and antidepressants or guiding complex medication programs. While on the MedicijnWijs application, users learn about their new medication in a dosed and structured way to ensure they are not bombarded with too much information at once. Spaced out over a few days, users receive easy-to-read-and-view instructions about their medications in the form of short texts, films, images and animations.

“Research has shown that structured information in small doses improves the patient’s understanding,” says Claudia Rijcken, the founder and CEO of Pharmi. Not only is it - confirmed by research - the right information at the right time for the patient, but the Pharmi team has made it their goal to use uncomplicated, understandable vocabulary, suitable for all literacy levels. This provides equal access for all users.

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MedicijnWijs is a very timely solution. In today’s economy where Help Wanted signs abound, pharmacists are one of the many professions in short supply. Pharmi’s platform can free up the time of pharmacists while improving patient care. Patients get immediate answers in MedicijnWijs, and pharmacists have more time to address complex questions that require more personalized attention.

More importantly, the platform can lead to a better quality of care for all users. Pharmacists and medical professionals can use the data analytics dashboard to see how their patients are doing and can guide patients remotely. Also, they can analyze population statistics and optimize their care provision based on patient reported data.

Rijcken explained how that information is gathered. "There are questions for users about how they are doing and their quality of life, as well as, for example, their belief about the medication. In research, whether or not a patient believes the drug will support them in reaching their health goals seems to be an important predictor of whether they are actually going to use the medication in an adherent way."

Ultimate goal
The ultimate goal behind these questions is to alert pharmacists to any potential issues while building more intelligence into the dashboard. With enough data, the application will be able to predict increasingly which patients may need additional help in the form of in-person consultation with the pharmacist, for example, by identifying inconsistencies between patient outcomes from the platform versus refill rates in the pharmacy information system.

These predictions will happen as more and more users and pharmacies come on board. By next year, the company has plans to reach more than 800,000 users. More users will provide more data for better data-driven analytics.

pharmi team5Startup phase
Founded in 2019, Pharmi has built all of this in a short time with – at the moment – a team of eight people. "It looks like a small team, but it's a very smart team,” says Rijcken. “We have quite a number of smart brains in the team and that has made the difference." The team also draws on the expertise of advisors across the spectrum of digital innovation, medicine and clinical application. The company even has patients that advise them on ways to increase accessibility for patients like themselves.

Pharmi’s first order of business is increasing their coverage in the Netherlands and then expanding to other countries, including nearby Belgium and Germany. “The platform was made to be scalable, including the content management system of all the medications. We need to build in language-specific information per country, but that can be done in a similar way as we do with the Dutch information," says Rijcken.

Pharmi announced a €2.2 million funding round in March, led by Healthy.Capital, which focuses on investments in digital healthcare. Pharmi expects to start a pilot in Belgium within a year.

Digital human pharmacist
One of the most exciting aspects of Pharmi’s platform will be its digital human pharmacist, which is a conversational AI with an empathic interface, built on the MedicijnWijs Content Management System. Users will be able to talk with this digital pharmacist 24 hours a day. Not only will this provide a more human-like interaction, but users will also have to rely less on navigating the application, which can be tricky for older generations or mobile-restricted users. 

pharmi team4

Pharmi is working hard to develop its digital pharmacist. The complex challenge is to develop the digital human to answer a user’s question in real time with the correct answer, as this is critical in healthcare. The virtual human may not immediately be able to answer the most complex questions, but in these cases, it must know when to refer the patient back to a pharmacist.

Building conversational AI in healthcare is a tough thing because of technology and compliance, but Pharmi’s team, together with Deloitte and Uneeq, is building the foundation for the digital pharmacist. The company wants to solve tough pharmaceutical problems with innovation and technology. "As far as we know, no one has developed a conversational AI pharmacist before," asserts Rijcken.

It may be easy to dismiss digital care options as providing less service to the patient, but with MedicijnWijs, this is not at all the case. Timely or instant answers to questions about medication usage can make all the difference. Pharmi has a founding principle: “digital care if possible, human care if needed.”

Pharmacies are evolving and it seems Pharmi is leading this change.

Interested? Pharmi is open to suggestions or providing more detailed information. Pharmi also has great job opportunities for software developers.