It's sometimes said that small rural communities are slow to embrace new technology.
But that's not true in the Noble County community of Albion when it comes to the way area residents can get their prescription medicines.
In February, a new pharmacy business based on a telemedicine model was established in the community of less than 2,500 people. The second location of Pill Box Pharmacy, based in Warsaw, the new business has no in-store pharmacist but allows customers to fill prescriptions via a computer and talk to a pharmacist via video chat.
The actual drugs are dispensed in the Albion store by a nationally certified telepharmacy technician and double checked via photos and computer messages by one of three pharmacists at the Warsaw location.
Greg Winn, an engineer who has been working about five years to have telepharmacy legally approved in Indiana, said the business has grown from 34 prescriptions filled in its first month in February to 169 in April, the most recent month for which statistics were available.
Winn, president of Pill Box Pharmacy, said the telepharmacy isn't yet at its break-even goal of 700 prescriptions a month. But, he said, the business is “going well. It's growing. It's growing fast.”
Winn said perhaps the biggest challenge to business has been so-called PBMs – pharmacy benefits managers – that must add the pharmacy to their approved lists for patients to use.
Two of the three major entities took two months to enroll the new pharmacy, Winn said. He said PBMs view telepharmacies as lower-cost competition, because some also own pharmacies or mail-order delivery systems for prescriptions, now seen as a lower-cost option than traditional drugstores.
“But now we're definitely accepting all the major insurance plans,” he said, and he expects that to draw more customers who like the convenience of a hometown prescription source.
Most of the store's customers come from Albion or just outside it, Winn said. He did not provide names of customers who might be willing to talk about their experience with the telepharmacy.
Like many other rural communities, Albion was without a drugstore for many years – more than a decade. “It's a common thing. Many small towns in Indiana have lost pharmacies, like Mentone, Milford and Argos,” Winn said.
The losses happened, he said, after PBMs reduced reimbursements for prescriptions from smaller, independent druggists, making it impossible for them to compete, Winn said.
A provision in state law does not allow a telepharmacy to open within 10 miles of a conventional pharmacy to avoid unfair competition, he added.