InterviewsPharmap: The couriers delivering prescription medications

Roberta Gavioli7 years ago16 min


“In Italy, people still only associate deliveries with food. With Pharmap, we applied the idea to a basic need – prescription drug delivery – and we made it digital.”

Giulio Lo Nardo, 26 anni, Co-Founder di Pharmap


Remember that time you were feeling run down and feverish, but since you were at work you couldn’t get to the pharmacy, and then you just got worse? And that other time that you needed to go to the doctor’s office to get a prescription for an urgent medication, but you didn’t have a car? And when you had various obligations but were blocked by flu symptoms, and all you wanted was for someone to come to your house and bring exactly what you needed to feel better? Well now there’s someone to take care of you, and it’s called Pharmap. This bike delivery service for prescriptions drugs was dreamed up by two young people from Palermo who realized how important home delivery of medication is to people who can’t get to a pharmacy. We thought the idea sounded incredibly useful, so we went to find Giulio Lo Nardo, Co-Founder of Pharmap, for a chat.

Let’s start at the beginning. How did you get the idea for Pharmap? 

There were two of us who believed in this project from the very beginning: me and Giuseppe Mineo. The idea came in early 2016 through university courses we had together – we both graduated with degrees in Economics in Palermo. Around that time, we’d taken part in a project about pharmacies, and this led us to an analysis of the market. We found that there was no delivery service for pharmaceuticals. From there, we had this eureka moment and we decided to work towards something that would respond to everyone’s needs.

Delivering such important products is a really useful idea, but how does Pharmap work?

Pharmap is an app, also accessible by web, that lets people set up deliveries for the prescriptions they need, using geolocalization or by inserting an address. The service applies to all products sold in pharmacies, from actual medicines to supplements, cosmetics, food products, etc. In October of 2016, we launched the service in Milan. And the latest news is that from the 2nd of October this year we also brought Pharmap to Palermo. After a great response in Milan, with an average of 1200 orders a month, 38% of which were prescriptions, our goal is to expand into all major Italian cities by December 2018.

So you can deliver any type of medication?

Yes, our core business focuses on prescription drugs but we can carry any kind of medication. Our messengers have all the equipment they need to be able to deliver traditional medications, as well as those that need to be kept at a certain temperature, or fragile ones such as glass capsules or oxygen tanks.

How do you deal with medications that need a prescription?

The client takes a photo of the prescription and uploads it in the application. The pharmacist can validate it visually, and will then accept and fill the prescription. The Pharmap messenger won’t have trouble picking up the package, but first they’ll need to stop by the client’s house to pick up the paper prescription. Or, let’s say I have an emergency but don’t have my prescription with me. I can still call my doctor and have the prescription written up and put in a sealed envelope, and the Pharmap messenger can pick it up from the doctor’s office instead of my house. Obviously, Italian law and bureaucracy are slowing down the move to digital prescriptions, so we can’t deliver anything without the paper slip.

Prescription drug delivery is really innovative. Is the service active 24/7?

For now, Parmap is active from Monday to Sunday and follows the same hours as pharmacies, from 8am to 8pm. But we realised that in Milan there’s a demand in the evening too, so we’ll be starting a late night service soon that will go until midnight. We’ve already enabled personalized delivery timeslots which you can set through the app, to try to meet our users’ needs even better.  

But it’s also a “green” service that travels on 2 wheels, right?

Absolutely, yes. Our messengers all use bicycles. Considering the sector, we wanted every part of our business, including the logistics, to be ethical, socially conscious and green. We can guarantee delivery within 45 minutes of when the pharmacy accepts the order for an additional €2.99, or €4.99 for prescriptions.

Here’s classic but important example. Let’s say I’m elderly and therefore have a greater need for this kind of service. But since it’s all digital, I have no idea how to use it. Have you found a solution for this?

There are 2 solutions: there’s a free dedicated call center, which walks the person through the order process step by step, or people can delegate to relatives or friends. The latter is very common because anyone can book a delivery from anywhere, which of course is what makes the app so useful. You can then choose whichever delivery address you prefer. In this case, you’d put in the elderly relative’s address and they’ll receive their deliveries with minimal effort.

Let me expand the discussion into the wider sector in which you operate: it’s a delivery service, yes, but focusing on what could be considered a “primary” need. How ready is Italy for this?

Unfortunately Italy isn’t always up to speed with other countries. This type of service has been around for years in other European countries like England, France and Germany. But in Italy, people still only associate deliveries with food. We were the first to apply the idea to a basic need, and we made it digital. There’s definitely a market for it because people are going to pharmacies less: sometimes it’s a time issue, but it’s also tied to the rise of supermarkets selling healthcare products and over-the-counter medications, which takes away a segment of the traditional pharmacy’s clientele. This is why pharmacies are looking at what services they can offer in their shops, and modifying their traditional mission a bit. Pharmap, and medication delivery in general, fits right in among these new services that digital platforms are helping to create.

You talked about innovation related to new technology, so I have to ask: how far is Italy in terms of digitalizing the pharmaceutical and healthcare system in general?

We’re far behind, even though it’s a sector undergoing huge changes. One one hand, there’s an important idea to keep in mind, which is that the law allows private capital to enter pharmacies, which is saving many failing branches and creating pharmacy chains that will revolutionize the landscape of the sector in Italy. On the other hand, in the world of healthcare in general, both doctors and hospitals are upgrading to digital, albeit slowly. They’ve been talking about electronic prescriptions for a year and half in Italy, but as it so often happens in our country, nothing has been solidified, and it’s not clear how it will be regulated.

To wrap up, I’ll ask you the same question I ask any delivery service. These systems always work well in cities, but what about the countryside? 

We’re in the final stages of building a version of our app that will work with pharmacies outside the big cities. But I can’t reveal any more.

Roberta Gavioli

Giornalista di Innovazione, Travel Blogger, Event Planner. Se è vero che il presente è digitale, il futuro è senza dubbio nelle persone. Amo la carta, ci scrivo, la leggo, la piego in origami, la dipingo e la trasformo in idee. Per me le scelte più importanti della vita si trovano sul fondo di una buona tazza di tè.

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