Medicare Tools for the Independent
An Interview with iMedicare’s COO and Co-founder, Matt Johnson
Matt Johnson and his partner, Flaviu Simihaian, decided to merge their common passion in programming with Matt’s decade of experience in pharmacy to create an interactive Medicare plan comparison tool for the independent pharmacy market. This tool, a Medicare plan finder, was specifically designed for the iPad. The product, which they launched just about two years ago, supports Johnson’s mission: “to add extraordinary value to the profession of pharmacy by applying innovations with information technology.” Here, in an interview with ComputerTalk’s Maggie Lockwood, Johnson describes the evolution of iMedicare.
ComputerTalk: Tell us a little bit about the founding/development of iMedicare; how did you come up with the idea? Share a little about yourself, your partners.
Matt Johnson, top, and Flaviu Simihaian
Johnson: Flaviu [Simihaian] and I had worked together as software developers, and we had led workshops with other developers in the Charlotte [North Carolina] area. We also wanted to start our own business. Three ago we started thinking about a market segment where we wanted to focus. I was still in pharmacy school at Wingate University at the time.
Quite frankly, the concept was not our original idea. Independent pharmacists, including one of my academic advisors, had suggested this as something to implement.. We interviewed 30 independent pharmacists face-to-face in the greater Charlotte area, and what kept coming up was a Medicare comparison tool that would suit a pharmacist better. It was a top need. I would say a third of the pharmacists we interviewed had mentioned this. This is what we decided to start building, since we had the knowledgebase and technology to deliver a viable solution.
I started programming at a young age. I mainly went into pharmacy because of having family already in medical fields. Flaviu held a master’s degree in software engineering and had a strong background in business. We realized we had intersecting skills and abilities that were pretty powerful.
In early 2013, Eugene O’Donnell joined our team to serve as the VP of Business Development. He came after a career in pharmacy association management as a CEO and Executive Director. He has extensive experience in pharmacy and worked most recently at the Georgia, South Carolina, and Mississippi Pharmacy Associations.
CT: How did you decide on the iPad as the platform for the software?
Johnson: We chose the iPad because it’s still the dominant tablet choice for the healthcare professional. We’ve seen tremendous results in the interaction between a pharmacist and their patient by using tablets to easily show them their Medicare costs, coverage, and when they will reach their donut hole and spend significantly more out of pocket for their medications.
CT: Which markets are you targeting first?
Johnson: Our market is pharmacies that serve their patients best. Independent pharmacies have been the most receptive and innovative around better ways to serve their patient population. Our customers go the extra mile to sit down with a patient and answer their Medicare related questions and assist them through the comparison process using their clinical expertise.
CT: Can you run through a basic demo of how to use iMedicare and point out its key features?
Johnson: We integrate with the major pharmacy management system vendors to import a patient’s profile and medications right on the iPad. This saves the pharmacy a tremendous amount of time they would spend entering a patient’s medications, which often can be over a dozen.
Once they tap to compare plans, we display all the Medicare Part D and Medicare Advantage plans in the pharmacy’s network, distinguished on whether the pharmacy is preferred or non-preferred with each plan. Furthermore, the patient’s cost for each plan and formulary restrictions are immediately displayed.
A pharmacist can then use their knowledge of plan restrictions such as step therapy and prior authorizations to compare plans, as well as suggest therapeutic alternatives that can save the patient money on their current plan.
This visual comparison can be printed or emailed for the patient to further review their plan options.
Our data comes directly from CMS on a monthly basis, and we make changes as often as same day if any critical changes occur.
Our current customer base is over 1,000 pharmacies, and have performed over a 100,000 plan comparisons. Our customers use iMedicare not only inside their store, but often take it to retirement communities and nursing homes that they work with, as a customer recently wrote about in the NCPA magazine. This helps them market their services and bring more Medicare patients to their pharmacy.
CT: How does the iMedicare software interface with a pharmacy management system to give pharmacists the ability to run reports, for example?
Johnson: There has been a great need to populate the patient’s current drug list in iMedicare from the pharmacy management system. QS/1 was the first vendor to integrate with our platform, quickly followed by major vendors such as Rx30, ComputerRx, and Mckesson. As it stands today, most software vendors on the market have integrated with iMedicare. The focus has been a clean import mechanism so the pharmacist doesn’t have to enter every drug. It’s much faster than any other offering.
CT: How has the functionality changed since you first introduced the application? How do you provide updates?
Johnson: Whenever we add a new feature, the updates happen seamlessly without any action required from our pharmacies.
A recent feature we added is the ability to compare the costs of alternative drugs that are in the same therapeutic category. iMedicare shows the price and the co-pays of potential alternative drugs, which is faster than manually checking coverage for each alternative that the pharmacist has to recall from memory..
Another unique feature in iMedicare is the ability to specify start and end dates for prescriptions. If the patient starts a new medication half-way through the year, that patient can see how the refills effect their annual cost more accurately. . Medicare.gov just assumes refills will occur consistently across the year, which can project costs that are thousands of dollars different.
CT: How are pharmacists reacting to iMedicare?
Johnson: The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, and most of the time the comments have been how fast and organized the application is. Pharmacists can now have fun experimenting with the process, instead of waiting for slow web pages. It’s very gratifying for the pharmacists interacting with patients. As far as questions, we get more questions about how to use the iPad than how to use the software. We’ve been very fortunate that’s the case and those questions are diminishing as pharmacists adopt more tablet technologies in their stores. CT