A Startup Rethinks Pharma
A Kalona native, entrepreneur Roby Miller is going into the family business—and reinventing rural pharmacies in the process.
This profile was written by Andy Stoll and first appeared in Little Village
(Vol 13, Issue 133), Iowa City’s alternative news and culture magazine.
Little Village recently sat down with Roby Miller to learn more about his Iowa City-based startup venture TelePharm and the entrepreneurial landscape in the greater Iowa City area. Miller founded TelePharm in March 2012 and serves as the company’s CEO.
LV: What does TelePharm do? What problems does it solves?
RM: TelePharm enables a pharmacist to perform his tasks remotely, verifying prescriptions and counseling patients. A pharmacist [in one town] could [remotely] manage multiple pharmacies [in other towns] with the pharmacy technicians [in the remote locations] filling and helping patients in the telepharmacy. We integrate with any pharmacy management system and provide all the hardware, so it’s a turn-key solution for a pharmacy owner.
In the last few years alone, 46 [rural] pharmacies have closed in Iowa and 903 [rural] pharmacies have shut down nationwide in the past six years, leaving about 6,000 total rural pharmacies still operating in the US. The pharmacy is the focal point of a lot of these rural towns, like a coffee shop. It’s an important retail storefront for that community.
The problem isn’t that rural America is decreasing in size, rural pharmacies aren’t losing patients, it’s that the insurance reimbursements for pharmacies are declining.
LV: Were there any pilot program that preceded TelePharm?
RM: Our first telepharmacy launched in October 2012. The Iowa Board of Pharmacy granted us a waiver to open a telepharmacy [which are not legally allowed currently]. I report the telepharmacy statics each quarter for errors, prescriptions filled, etc., and once the Iowa Telepharmacy Taskforce is completed with writing the rules around telepharmacy, we’ll then be able to open telepharmacies like a normal pharmacy.
The pilots are going really well, actually better than I expected for a startup company. We have four sites in Iowa, one in Illinois and [one in] Texas. We have more coming on over the next months and we hope to be in six states before the end of the year.
LV: You work in a pretty interesting office space in downtown Iowa City, can you tell us about your office mates and what they’re working on?
RM: There are four different businesses. Adam Ingersoll, owner of Compass Education in Los Angeles, Isaac Ingersoll, owner of GolfCenter, Aaron Boshart, owner of AppMedical and there are a few TelePharm employees, too. We were all looking for office space and joined up, it works out really well because it’s fun to have other people doing similar things surrounding you.
LV: What can the Corridor community do to be more supportive of entrepreneurs and startups like yours?
RM: We need more class A office space and a place for creatives to live. It’s really hard to find and if you do, it’s too expensive. We need the University, Kirkwood and cities and counties to work together to foster entrepreneurship in each stage. It’s a win-win for everyone. There are a lot of people working to make this happen and its only a matter of time before national publications start taking note of what’s happening here.
Read the rest of this interview with Roby at LittleVillageMag.com.
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Andy Stoll is an Iowa-based social entrepreneur, media producer and co-founder of Seed Here Studio, a social good startup working to grow the entrepreneurial and creative community across the Corridor. Follow Andy on Twitter @andystoll or learn more at andystoll.net.
Little Village is a free alternative magazine covering Iowa City culture from refreshing perspectives. Published on the first and third Wednesday of the month, Little Village is available in print across the Creative Corridor and online at LittleVillageMag.com.
Background portrait by Rachel Jessen, a recent University of Iowa graduate, Iowa City visual journalist, and photo editor at Little Village magazine. See more of her photos on Instagram at rcjessen and littlevillagemag. Follow her on Twitter at @rachjessen.
Article photos courtesy of Roby Miller.