“If you get asthma, diabetes, or cardiac disease, then you’ll be most likely taking pills for life,” says Co-Founder and CEO of Healthnet, Deeshana Basnayake. His words serve as a grim reminder of an invisible yet prevalent problem in Sri Lanka. According to a 2018 report by the Ministry of Health, Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) are the leading cause of premature deaths in Sri Lanka. Given the challenges of preventing these diseases and an ageing population at risk, a steady supply of medication has become essential. This is where Healthnet, an online pharmacy aims to make life easier for all.
During the coronavirus lockdown, one of the few exceptions where you were allowed to move freely was to get medicine. Often, this meant waiting for hours in a long line under the hot sun. Before this, going to the pharmacy was already an ordeal due to several reasons. Some examples are the struggle to find parking, lost time as pharmacists find your medicine, and having to visit multiple pharmacies because all of your medication isn’t available in a single place.
For those of you who are blessed with healthy bodies, this might be an inconvenience when we occasionally get sick. But for those suffering from diabetes, asthma, cardiac diseases, or other NCDs, their need for regular medication makes pharmacy visits exhausting.
In an ideal world, we’d look towards promoting good health so that people would need to take less medication over their lives. Head of Product Development at Healthnet, Nayanake Vidanarachchi shared, “Countries like Singapore are endorsing this, but unfortunately in Sri Lanka, the norm is to take 10 – 15 pills until you die.”
Accepting this grim reality and recognizing the challenges of physically visiting pharmacies, Deeshana alongside COO of Healthnet, Rangika Wijesinghe founded Heathnet in 2015 as an online pharmacy. It has evolved considerably since then, the latest form being a mobile app. Allowing Healthnet to better serve the needs of those suffering from NCDs and allowing them to live long fulfilling lives.
Laying the groundwork for an online pharmacy
Since its inception in 2015, Healthnet operated as a registered and licensed pharmacy, compliant with NMRA (National Medicines Regulatory Authority) standards for the operation and delivery of medication. It allowed you to order medication through its website and have it delivered to your doorstep. For this process to work smoothly, there’s a well-oiled machine with many parts working behind the scenes.
It all starts with sourcing of medicines. Healthnet obtains its medicines from registered suppliers, manufactures and sole authorized importers. Adhering to the guidelines, these medicines are sold at the same price as you’d find at a normal pharmacy. Further, due to the network that Healthnet has built over years by leveraging the experience of its founders in the pharmaceutical industry, it is simply a one-stop shop for all your medication. While it may be an online pharmacy, Healthnet does not add a surcharge to the price of its medicines. The benefit here is that you can get your medicine at the same price as you would at a pharmacy but now it’s delivered to your doorstep at the tap of a button.
Still, handling medicines is no easy task. As per the NMRA guidelines, some medicines require specific conditions for storage. Even the pills that we usually take need to be stored below 30°C without direct exposure to sunlight. And it’s needless to mention the extreme temperature outside on a sunny day in most parts of Sri Lanka. Thereby, a typical delivery service would not suffice. According to COO of Healthnet, Rangika Wijesinghe, it’s for this reason they opted to develop their storage centre for medicine and to have an in-house delivery team utilizing temperature controlled vehicles for deliveries.
Elaborating on the process, Nayanake adds that the majority of its user base is over 40 years of age and are looking for flexibility when ordering their medication. For this reason, they prefer speaking to a real person vs selecting options on a menu and adding to a cart. Having learnt these and other lessons through intensive user research, Healthnet identified the clear needs of its customers.
After a wealth of learnings, the result is a conversational eCommerce app. One that has the usual functions of a typical eCommerce app but is built around a conversational interface. Meaning you can directly have a conversation with an SLMC licensed pharmacist when placing orders. It makes ordering your medicine as simple as sending a WhatsApp message. Meaning there’s no steep learning curve and it offers the flexibility sought after by Healthnet’s target market. Blurring the lines between a pharmacist and a digital assistant, the app is uniquely, “Your Pharma-Assistant”.
Ordering your medicine online with Healthnet
The first step is to download the app, which is available on both Android and iOS. Afterwards, you’ll need to enter your mobile number, the OTP code sent via SMS, and fill up your details to create an account. It should be noted that the app doesn’t use passwords. Instead, each time you log into the app, you’ll receive an OTP code. A decision that was taken towards offering a simpler experience when ordering your medicine online.
When placing a new order, you’ll be connected to a pharmacist. You can either upload a picture of your prescription or text it to them in a chat window. After specifying whether the order is for yourself or someone else, the pharmacist would send you an estimate. Upon receiving it, you can make any changes needed before finalizing your order. Then it’s a matter of simply adding your delivery address, select your payment method, and when you want the medicine delivered. Another pharmacist will then prepare your medicine before it’s handed over to the Healthnet delivery team.
Currently, Healthnet has priced all of its medicines at the same amount as you’d find at a normal pharmacy. If your order is over LKR 1,000 then you will not incur any delivery charges. Essentially, if your bill is over LKR 1,000 then you’re only paying for the medicine. For orders under LKR 1,000, you will be only charged LKR 150 for deliveries within Colombo suburbs and LKR 250 beyond 10km from Colombo 5 (where Healthnet is located). The clear benefit here is that the medicine would be delivered to your doorstep at the press of a button.
Throughout the entire process, Healthnet offers real-time updates from when you place the order until it’s dropped at your doorstep. All of these updates are added into your chat window. So at any point, you can simply chat with the pharmacist or the delivery agent with any questions you may have via the app itself. Offering you clear transparency and flexibility throughout the entire process. Still, the biggest benefit of the app is how it simplifies refilling your prescription.
Your prescriptions in one place and reordering medicine simplified
For those suffering from NCDs and their caregivers, a regular supply of their medication is essential. But as we saw earlier, regular visits to pharmacies can be exhausting. This is where the Healthnet app truly shines. It stores all of your prescriptions for future orders. This includes those of your friends and family, whose medicine you can also order through the app. A handy feature, particularly given how likely it is for us to misplace prescriptions when we need them.
Further, the app also takes out the hassle of refills with reminders for your prescriptions. The app offers these reminders when medicines need to be refilled to both the caregivers and patients suffering from NCDs. Given their need for regular medication, the Healthnet app has a dashboard built-in, which shows how many days remain before the medicine needs to be refilled.
This includes reminders for medications of family members as well. With the Healthnet app, patients suffering from NCDs or their caretakers can create individual profiles for different family members. Meaning there could be profiles for your father, mother, wife, brother-in-law, or anyone else in your family in need of medication to treat NCDs. On these profiles you can store each of their prescriptions and with reminders, ensure they always get their medication on time.
By storing your data within the app and automating the process for refills, Healthnet solves the biggest problem for patients suffering from NCDs and their caregivers. It guarantees them a steady supply of their medicine as and when they need it. Of course, given the sensitive nature of this information, data security is of paramount importance.
Nayanake emphasized that Healthnet encrypts every piece of information and is always working to adopt the latest in data security standards. At the time of writing, the company is working towards finalizing its GDPR compliance. “Given the sensitive nature of the data we store, GDPR compliance is vital,” adds Nayanake.
Looking towards the future
To date, Healthnet has recorded 11,000+ registered customers and fulfilled 27,000+ orders. But the company has ambitious goals for its future ahead. As Deeshana boldly puts it, “We want to be the pharmacy that helps you stay off medication.” While seemingly contradictory at first glance, there’s a noble truth behind it. Those suffering from NCDs, which Healthnet is focusing on helping, can easily end up taking more medication if they’re not careful with their health.
Towards this goal, Healthnet is determined to ensure a better outcome of medication through medication adherence. Utilizing technology, it aims to offer safe medicines directly from the manufacturers or authorized importers as recommended by the doctors. Beyond this, Healthnet is working towards educating its customers that can help them live a healthier lifestyle.
With the development of its mobile app, Healthnet is utilizing technology towards tackling one of the biggest issues faced by those suffering from NCDs. As made evident during the lockdown when we struggled to obtain medicine, this is a positive step forward as the company works towards its ambitious goal of promoting healthier lifestyles in Sri Lanka. You can download the Healthnet app by clicking here.