Repeat prescription app Echo wants to solve your medication woes with technology
A prescription app may not sound like the medical tech tool that will save your life but co-founder Stephen Bourke has high hopes.
Founded in 2014 by Bourke, who has a background in digital health, and Sai Lakshmi, who worked at Apple, Echo wants to tackle one of the trickiest areas of healthcare: getting people to take their medication.
“In the UK 50 per cent of medication isn’t taken as directed,” explains Bourke. “Not only is there a drug cost involved, but in the long term it means that patient is more likely to get ill again.”
The start-up has a broader mission to use technology to tackle the challenges the UK’s healthcare sector is facing as well as improve patient management. We caught up with Bourke to find out all about it.
What you need to know about prescription app Echo
Echo was born out of a frustration over the process of ordering repeat prescriptions. Both Bourke and Lakshmi have taken a repeat prescription throughout their lives; Lakshmi for asthma and Bourke for asthma too and, later, for generalised anxiety disorder.
“Sai said to me, why is it that every month we have to schlep to the doctors and to the pharmacy?,” Bourke says. “It takes up so much headspace for us to manage our meds when it should just be really straightforward.”
The two tried to imagine the best way to achieve this, which eventually laid the groundwork for Echo. They decided to quit their jobs, raise some money and the app was born.
How Echo works is you download the app, input who your NHS England GP is as well as any repeat prescriptions you take.
If you need some more medication, you order it through the app. Your GP approves it, and then the request goes to one of Echo’s partner pharmacies in London and the South East who deliver it to your door anywhere in the country in Echo’s sleek packaging. Newcastle, in particular, is a popular city for Echo.
Once you have your medications, Echo translates the GP directions, such as take two tablets twice daily, and sends reminders to you to make sure you’re taking them properly.
“What we’re doing with Echo is removing the barriers to get medication so we can improve outcomes across the system and also make life more convenient for both the patient and the GP,” he says.
Echo’s message is clearly working. The app is backed by investors such as WhiteStar Capital, Local Globe and Public.io, demonstrating that there is a lot of potential for a model like Echo.
How is Echo able to offer this service?
Since starting out in the medtech business, Bourke says some of the data around prescriptions is startling. In 10 years between March 2008 and March 2018, the number of prescriptions dispensed has increased by 48 per cent.
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People are getting older and we’re developing health conditions that need managing.
“We have a GP shortage, we have an ageing population, there are so many pressures to do with health,” he says. “Technology has a major role to play.”
The NHS was crucial to Echo’s ability to offer its prescription ordering service. The app is built on top of the NHS’s electronic prescribing service and has received support from the organisation, such as placement on the NHS app store.
“The NHS is a great place for innovation, once you figure out the mechanics of how things operate. We have been extremely lucky to have such a good partnership there,” says Bourke.
Why technology is crucial to the future of healthcare
Bourke, in particular, is keen to stress how an app like Echo can help those with mental health conditions, especially because several of Echo’s patients are receiving prescriptions for anti-depressants.
“A lot of people with mental health conditions can be quite disengaged [with their condition]. If I have a moment of anxiety, I don’t want to think about it once it’s passed. I don’t want to think about my meds, I just want to get back to business,” he explains.
“And the withdrawal symptoms, if I run out, can be quite nasty, I can really feel it within 12 hours. This can lead to people ending up in A&E looking for repeat prescriptions.”
This is why Bourke and Lakshmi designed Echo the way they did; in a clean, succinct manner to make it simple and easy for patients to manage their medications and therefore their conditions.
In the long term, Bourke wants to build on this to be able to provide more features for Echo’s users, such as adapting the app to serve individual conditions like Cystic Fibrosis.
“These patients require a different interface,” he says. “They can take up to 30 different tablets and inhalers a day. We’re thinking about how we can make life easier for them.
“We want to look at the whole patient and the human problems and use simplicity to treat things well.”
It’s not just apps like Echo that want to power the future of healthcare. London-based AI start-up Babylon has launched GP at Hand so you can check your symptoms with the help of a chatbot or chat to a doctor, and there’s Patients Know Best which gives you instant access to your medical records.
“I think the time is now for technology like ours to flourish,” says Bourke.