There are no hard numbers on how many prescriptions consumers are buying and selling online.

But online pharmacies such as PillPack Inc. in Manchester, N.H., and Capsule Corp. in New York are rolling out new digital services they contend will make filling prescriptions online quicker and easier.

For example, since co-founder, CEO and pharmacist TJ Parker launched PillPack in 2013 the company has raised $93 million in funding to build a digital pharmacy base that now operates in 49 states. PillPack won’t disclose numbers including annual sales, how many prescriptions it fills or how many customers it currently serves. But PillPack is using the web to expedite getting a prescription filled more quickly and easily than at the corner drugstore, the company says.  

PillPack manages multiple prescription medications for customers by pre-sorting, packaging and delivering the drugs—all with a 24/7 pharmacy staff that can be contacted either online or via phone. Every two weeks, customers receive a personalized roll of pre-sorted medications, along with a recyclable dispenser and any other medications that cannot be placed into packets, like liquids and inhalers. Each shipment includes a medication label that explains what each pill is and how it should be taken.

In addition to pre-sorting medications, PillPack coordinates refills and guarantees the shipment of all medications on time. Online tools allow customers to track their shipments, refills, and co-pays. Customers can e-mail or call a PillPack pharmacist any time to ask questions or clarify instructions.

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PillPack is expanding and adding on facilities and employees. The company employs about 200 workers between its New Hampshire fulfillment center and engineering, design, and marketing office in Somerville, Mass. PillPack also over the next several years plans to add 300 more employees at its western fulfillment hub in Salt Lake City.

PillPack also is adding more insurers to its business base. In February, Aetna Inc., which provides prescription benefits to 15.2 million Medicare and commercial plan members, added PillPack to its national network of preferred pharmacies. Members of Aetna’s Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug plans and of stand-alone Part D prescription drug plans can use PillPack while paying Aetna’s preferred pricing for prescription drugs, Aetna says. Existing PillPack customers who are Aetna Medicare members will automatically receive these lower co-pays—in some cases $1 in some plans—as part of their Aetna benefits, the insurer says.

“PillPack is designed to make it simple and easy for people to take medications as prescribed, without missing doses or skipping days,” Parker says.

In New York, another digital pharmacy start-up—Capsule—also is attempting to build a lasting e-commerce business. The company launched in May 2015 with angel investor Eric Kinariwala as the CEO and Sonia Patel, a pharmacist friend, as the chief pharmacist.

Capsule won’t disclose details about its first year in business, including web sales, prescription orders or how many doctors the online pharmacy is working with. But in New York, a state with 4,300 licensed pharmacies located in independent pharmacies, hospitals, clinics, chain drugstores, discount and warehouse retail outlets and grocery stores, Capsule is promising customers it will deliver prescriptions in about two hours for free to customers living in Manhattan and the other boroughs. “60 minutes is the typical time a lot of New Yorkers wait to have a prescription filled,” Kinariwala says.

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Capsule has its own courier network of employees that undergo background checks and have passed a commercial bicyclist safety course and undergo HIPAA security training for patient privacy, the company says.

Capsule says it wants to use the web to make fulfilling prescriptions faster and easier for consumers—the company claims its e-commerce and prescription management system can switch over a prescription from an existing pharmacy in about 30 seconds. The latest version of Capsule’s Apple app also lets users switch between saved addresses and credit cards at checkout.

For now Capsule will look to grow its business and add more payers, doctors and other providers to its network, Kinariwala says. “Pharmacies are the front line of healthcare but there are inefficiencies,” he says. “We will build a better digital eco-system.”

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