There’s no shortage of apps designed to remind people to take their medications. But GoodRx, an online pharmacy and telehealth app, is trying to take it a step further by launching a digital “medicine cabinet.” The idea is to create a one-stop shop that allows people to check price comparisons, get reminders and refills, and even earn financial rewards for taking their meds.
The name of the game is to improve medication adherence — or how well you follow your doctor’s orders when it comes to treatment. That includes things like regularly taking antidepressants, antibiotics, or statins to reduce cholesterol, etc. To get the best results, the pharmaceutical journal US Pharmacist says you need an adherence rate of around 80 percent. You might think that’s easy enough, but studies show that 50 percent of patients with chronic illnesses struggle to take medications as prescribed. In the US, that ends up costing the healthcare system roughly $300 billion annually.
While most medication apps focus on sending you an alert when it’s time to take your meds, that’s only part of the problem. Other factors, like cost or lack of insurance, can make it difficult for even the most diligent patients to keep up with treatments. The most interesting thing about GoodRx’s Medicine Cabinet feature is that it addresses barriers other than forgetfulness.
To do that, GoodRx’s Medicine Cabinet adds an Action Center that highlights what you need to do to stay on top of your treatments on a given day. (You can also set daily reminders for when to take your meds or get refills.) That’s combined with recommendations for pharmacies that offer the best price for a specific medication. There’s also a prescriptions dashboard in which previous prescriptions filled with GoodRx automatically populate, meaning current GoodRx users don’t actually have to manually enter any information. The dashboard can also support prescriptions that are filled outside of GoodRx’s services. Lastly, GoodRx says that every time you pick up a refill on time or use an eligible GoodRx coupon, you’ll get points toward further discounts. If you’re lucky enough to have a good insurance plan, those discounts can also be traded in for gift cards from “hundreds of retailers.” It’s a bit roundabout, but it’s essentially paying customers to take their meds.
“We want to reward people for staying healthy,” says Mark Hull, GoodRx’s chief product officer. Hull says that Medicine Cabinet is less about creating habits than it is about incentivizing people to stick with them. “It isn’t just about the pill taking. It’s the pill taking, it’s remembering to get the refills, it’s remembering to actually pick up the refills when they’re ready.”
Using small financial rewards is an interesting approach, and according to Hull, early beta tests of Medicine Cabinet show that people enrolled in the feature claimed prescriptions 400 percent more than users who weren’t. However, the jury is out on whether financial incentives work in building and maintaining healthier habits. Some research suggests that these incentives can work in certain circumstances, while other research says they aren’t that effective for long-term change.
And while this is a more holistic approach to medical adherence, it doesn’t address every challenge. For example, GoodRx doesn’t have an official way of helping users navigate drug shortages — which can be a major barrier to adherence. The US reported 301 active national drug shortages in the first quarter of 2023, the highest since 2014. Hull tells The Verge that while GoodRx doesn’t have anything to announce on that front, the company is hopeful it can leverage its price tracking data in the future for that purpose.
“What we’re finding is that the supplies are very spotty,” says Hull. “So if you know where a medication was recently available, you might have an indication or a sense if there’s a decent chance whether it might be there tomorrow.”
Another small issue is that Medicine Cabinet will only launch on iOS to start, though Hull says an Android version is currently in the works.
Regardless, GoodRx’s Medicine Cabinet also illustrates the tension within health tech right now. Features that rely on large datasets can be cool and convenient. For example, it’s neat that Medicine Cabinet doesn’t require users to manually fill out prescription information because it pulls from previous claims. It’s neat that it creates a single hub where a person can keep track of all their medications and refills, get reminded of when to take which pill, and be rewarded for staying consistent. On the other hand, you wouldn’t be wrong for feeling leery about doctors and pharmacies sharing that data with tech companies — even if it is convenient.
While HIPAA is supposed to protect private health data, it often falls short, can be murky to navigate, and hasn’t been adequately updated to handle the digital health era
For now, it’s up to consumers to decide the level of risk they’re comfortable with — and whether they believe tech companies will adhere to their own privacy policies.