A family emergency was a wake-up call for Dr. C. Hooshmand Nightingale.
Nightingale, an emergency room physician, founded his company, Direct Pharms, after his oldest son got sick and there wasn’t any medication at home to treat the child.
Direct Pharms, which is based at the Tampa Bay Innovation Center in downtown St. Petersburg, offers a technology-enabled kit that is stocked with over-the-counter medications to treat 95 percent of common ailments. The prototype includes items such as Visine, Tylenol, Benadryl and Nyquil, among others.
The kit, dubbed ARKA — Latin for “a chest of valuables” — is a smart device connected to the Internet. There are RFID [radio frequency identification] sensors in the kit that tag, monitor and automatically replenish each item.
The patent-pending technology integrates with a mobile app, Alexa and Amazon Echo, which provide user information on the contents of the kit and how to take the medications.
“We have done the shopping for you. We’ll do all the maintenance for you. As long as we have a method of payment, you will have a limitless supply of medication in the amounts that are appropriate for you,” Nightingale said.
The kit is one of the growing numbers of connected devices in the rapidly-expanding Internet of Things. The global IoT healthcare market is expected to reach $267.6 billion by 2023, according to P&S Market Research.
The over-the-counter medication market that Direct Pharms is working in is a $38 billion market, Nightingale said.
“Even if you were to make a small percentage of that, it’s a very large company. One percent of that is a $400 million company,” he said.
Nightingale has invested his own savings in developing the product. Now that Direct Pharms is preparing to roll out its beta kit, the company is beginning to look at outside seed funding.
A better way
The company has its roots in an episode several years ago, when Nightingale and his family lived in rural Michigan. Nightingale’s child got sick and Nightingale’s wife, Denise, couldn’t find any Motrin, an over-the-counter medication to reduce fevers, in the house. She called Nightingale at work. Convinced there was Motrin in the house, he neglected to stop at a drugstore on the way home, and when he found out he was wrong, he had to go back out. The nearest drugstore was 30 miles away, and it was the middle of winter and snowing.
“There had to be a better way,” he remembers thinking. “In the hospital I have this box that a pharmacy controls remotely and makes sure I have exactly what I need for patients … I said, I need that miniaturized in my house.”
Nightingale is an entrepreneur at heart, his wife said, and he worked on the project over eight years, including during a move that brought them to St. Petersburg, where Nightingale now is an emergency room physician at St. Petersburg General Hospital.
His initial prototype was developed to make sure the RFID chip technology worked.
“Embedded in each cell in the kit is an RFID chip. On that chip is information about the item in the cell – the expiration, lot number, what the medication is,” Nightingale said. “As soon as you take out each item, it sends the information to the cloud. That can send it to your mobile device and give you usable information for the product.”
One challenge was to make the kit cost-effective. Direct Pharms’ business model is subscription-based. It’s still testing the pricing, but currently has priced its adult kit at $19 a month, about 33 percent less than the $340 a year the average family spends on over-the-counter medications, Nightingale said.
Brick and mortar pharmacies have overhead that Direct Pharms does not have, he said.
He plans to explore partnerships with insurance companies and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid that potentially cut the cost further.
“The nice thing about over-the-counter medications is that for every $1 that’s spent here, it cuts about $8 in total health care costs,” he said.
Taking an OTC drug can prevent a more costly ER visit, he said.
“If you came to see me in the ER and you haven’t tried these basic things before you did that you’re not doing yourself any justice.”
Another challenge was to make the kit easy to use.
“I’m not a techie person, so it has to be something simple,” Denise Nightingale said. “This to me, as a mom, takes the guesswork out of it.”
Mothers are the target market, since women make most of the decisions about family healthcare, Nightingale said.
All the medications in the kit are used on an as-needed basis, and are widely accepted among doctors for treatment; “If you brought any of these items to a physician, they would say yes, that is the industry leader,” Nightingale said.
An alert goes out every time the box is opened, mitigating the potential for abuse, such as a child accidentally taking something that could be harmful.
The kit also taps into a trend towards consumers taking control of their own healthcare.
“We can provide you with granular detail about your health that to this date the average consumer never had access to,” Nightingale said. “We have this information for industry such as hospitals, but it hasn’t been brought to the end consumer.”
The company is currently taking pre-orders for ARKA on its website. It also plans on launching a pediatric version that will have lower-dosage name brand OTC medications.