Contemporary technology has created the opportunity to revolutionise industries that have functioned in more or less the same fashion for decades. These advancements can often bring about positive and needed change, but occasionally their focus on leveraging tech for prot supersedes the best interests of their clients.
The co-founders of Acorn Wellbeing, Mark Hedley and Kevin Murphy, recognised this worrying trend in the pharmaceutical industry, with pharmaceutical apps and online delivery services concentrating on sales instead of the vital relationship that exists between a patient and their pharmacist.
So, in the autumn of 2018, Acorn Wellbeing came to the oces of Bad Dinosaur with a plan to build a platform that would both simplify medicine management and improve the healthcare relationship between patients and their local pharmacy.
Having worked for a combined forty years within the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries (Mark on the business side and Kevin as a pharmacist) the co-founders of Acorn have a deep understanding of the valuable role that pharmacists play within the healthcare system. Being the only medical professionals that can be found on virtually every high street across the country, pharmacists are often the healthcare industry’s first line of public support.
However, the introduction of online platforms and apps used to solely ll prescriptions and deliver them directly to the homes of patients means that communication between pharmacists, patients, and GPs is at risk, a change that undermines the importance of traditional brick and mortar pharmacies and could sacrifice the role of the pharmacist as a valued healthcare provider.
While other health-tech platforms have been focused on cutting out the middle-man--ie the high street pharmacist, Acorn has decided that the way forward should include the pharmacy that families might have been loyal to for generations. For Acorn, this meant creating a platform that not only simplifies the process of filling a prescription, but makes it easy for patients, pharmacists, and GPs to better communicate with one another and provides opportunities to improve the relationship between patient and pharmacy by providing access to other healthcare services via the pharmacy.
“Much of the technology within the pharmaceutical industry to date has been focused on creating platforms that disrupt the relationship between local pharmacies and their patients, when what we need to be doing is developing technology that builds upon the existing relationships that pharmacies have with their patients in order to enhance and improve it.”
Mark and Kevin knew that they had an idea that could be the seed for positive change within the pharmaceutical industry. Still, creating a platform that pharmacies and patients could put their faith in was not going to be simple.
Understanding that the development of the nished Acorn platform would be a massive and highly costly undertaking, Mark and Kevin decided to build an MVP (minimum viable product) that would allow pharmacies and patients to understand how the platform would benet them and could also be used to attract potential investors.
Mark attended meetings with a number of software development agencies, but found he was being pitched massive proposals that were overly costly and complicated. It was then that a colleague suggested he meet with Russ (Director) from Bad Dinosaur, whose ideas immediately clicked with the Acorn vision.
“Obviously it’s a lot about people isn’t it? So we got on well with Russ, and we were attracted by the ethos Bad Dinosaur has, which is all about building something in an agile way that gets you to the proof of concept that allows you to be able to illustrate the investible proposition and get investment in. It also felt like they really understood the challenges we were facing and were sympathetic to our position as a start-up."
Russ and the developers at Bad Dinosaur were also excited by the project. Mark had a clear vision of what he wanted to achieve with the Acorn MVP, and his and Kevin’s wealth of experience within the healthcare industry meant they had a deep understanding of their target market. On top of this, it was immediately obvious that there was a strong moral and ethical underpinning to the project, which stemmed from the goal of wanting to improve people’s lives.
“From our first meeting with Mark I knew that the Acorn project was something I wanted Bad Dinosaur to be a part of. Not only was the development process interesting and engaging for us from a technical standpoint, but the scope of the project has the potential to be massive and could bring about hugely positive changes within the industry.”
For both Mark and Russ the decision to work together was resoundingly obvious, and the pair wasted no time in setting what would become one of Bad Dinosaur’s most interesting and rewarding projects to date.
Over the course of the following months the Acorn MVP was built by a team of Bad Dinosaur developers that included Russ, Finn, Lindsay, and Ian, with a focus on providing patients with an intuitive and easy to use interface that allows them to order, manage, and track prescriptions, as well as message their local pharmacist should they require advice. The platform is designed to reduce many of the frustrating aspects of filling prescriptions, such as: inconvenient trips to the surgery; forgetting to order repeat prescriptions; running out of medication; missing deliveries; and long pharmacy wait times.
One of the major breakthroughs in the project occurred when Bad Dinosaur integrated technology from the revolutionary tech start-up digi.me. Because the healthcare industry deals with sensitive and personal data, the platform needed a way to allow users to securely access and seamlessly share their health records digitally. digi.me is an industry leading service for securing and sharing personal digital data, and within the Acorn platform it helps patients to securely store and share medical files (such as prescriptions) with their healthcare providers.
“The digi.me integration for Acorn was key because it enables the app to automatically import the patient's prescribed medication and show them to the patient in the app. digi.me has an SDK (software developer's kit) for the integration, but it isn't compatible with the technology that we had used for the Acorn app - so we adapted it to fit by re-writing the SDK in .NET. We worked closely with digi.me to design, develop and test our solution using sandbox medical data. It was great to work on something that was so technical but also had to be safe, friendly and easy for the patient to use.”
The integration of digi.me within the Acorn platform has been a real cause for celebration, because providing patients with the control and securitization of their data is paramount. But the use of digi.me has also had some unexpected positive benefits, as it will simplify Acorn’s expansion into foreign markets, giving them the potential to increase their user rates exponentially.
“The work that Russ has done integrating the Acorn app with digi.me has been essential. This will allow us to get to market more quickly in the UK and help us to move into other territories outside the UK. The inclusion of this technology will also eventually allow users to do a lot more than just order and collect their prescriptions. It’s the direction of travel as far as people’s ownership and control of their personal data is concerned.”
A year after their first meeting with Mark, the Bad Dinosaur development team completed the sleekly designed Acorn MVP, which operates on all devices and provides patients with the essential tools for filling prescriptions and communicating with their pharmacist via an inbuilt messenger service. And as Acorn continues to grow Mark and Kevin look forward to adding features that will help to create a better and more personalised healthcare experience for all patients.
As of October 2019, Acorn is successfully undergoing testing with both patients and pharmacies, and anyone interested in becoming an Acorn user can visit their website at https://acornwellbeing.io/ to sign up as a beta tester. The core goal of Acorn continues to be to facilitate an easier and better experience between patients and their pharmacy in order to maximise the value of pharmacists as healthcare practitioners and provide patients with the best possible service.
Most recently, Acorn have furthered their commitment to maintaining the high ethical standards of the health services industry, as Mark and Kevin have chosen to make the platform available for free to all users in the hope that the technology will create a positive change in the lives of as many patients as possible.
Meanwhile, back at the Bad Dinosaur offices in Edinburgh, we’re looking forward to seeing this positive change take root as Acorn grows into the future, and are also proud of the development work we’ve done in delivering this project, including the innovative integration work with digi.me.