How MedEssist Streamlined Healthcare Access Through Entrepreneurship
For Joella Almeida and Michael Do, the Co-Founders of a revolutionary patient relationship platform for pharmacies called MedEssist, a gap in the healthcare industry needed to be filled.
While working as a community pharmacist, Do saw firsthand the issues patients faced every day and how challenging it is for pharmacists to provide personalized care within traditional pharmacy workflows. For Do, the primary role of community pharmacies within the healthcare system is in offering accessibility. And this characteristic was even more crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic response.
“MedEssist came out of this idea that technology could be used to address or challenge systemic problems to improve patient outcomes by getting them (patients) to access, understand and manage their health with technology,” said Almeida.
In early 2019, Almeida was running her own business as a freelance marketer and Shopify partner with a steady roster of recurring clients, yet she was craving something new and in her words, “building MedEssist was a dream worth pursuing.”
“Many business owners who switch paths from working a corporate job or freelancing see entrepreneurship as an aspirational profession,” said Shadi McIsaac, CEO of Ownr, the small business legal management platform that the MedEssist Co-Founders used to incorporate their business. “We consistently hear that one of the top reasons an entrepreneur chooses to start their business is to gain more purpose in their lives while reclaiming creative freedom.”
With Do’s expertise in pharmacies and Almeida’s background in tech sales and operations, the duo put their heads together to scale MedEssist’s customer base to 100 pharmacies in less than six months. “We saw the impact we could have and were committed to working together to change the way healthcare could be accessed through pharmacies,” said Almeida.
Pharmacies in flux
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, in communities across the country, the MedEssist platform was put to the test. With testing and vaccination centres at capacity, the government called local community pharmacies to expand COVID-19 testing and administer the COVID-19 vaccine.
These pharmacies would play an integral role to alleviate pressure from testing facilities and enhance the safety of Canadians by ensuring equitable access to these services.
Community pharmacists were overwhelmed by the influx of patients, with many facing operational challenges as a result of the mandates. Insufficient staffing meant they couldn’t keep their heads above the water to meet the demand, and with the confusion surrounding the virus, patients had plenty of questions and pharmacy phones were ringing off their hooks.
Physical distancing is a top public safety measure, but the increasing patient needs led to crowded pharmacies. Screening every patient and coordinating vaccination appointments was important to ensure only eligible patients were booking appointments to avoid packed pharmacies.
Entrepreneurs like the MedEssist Co-Founders looked to ease these pressures by offering solutions that allowed pharmacists to focus less on operational challenges and more on the needs of their patients.
Unlocking healthcare opportunities
During the pandemic, the MedEssist platform put the power of technology in the hands of pharmacists to enable better patient outcomes. Pharmacies were able to register patients for vaccinations in advance and easily manage all doses, vaccine inventory, and scheduling services.
It also seamlessly integrated with pharmacy systems to screen patients by collecting documentation, recording electronic consent and the reason for testing using a privacy-compliant approach – all in an automated way. For diverse populations, multilingual province-specific documentation helped make complex documents more accessible.
Success stories like MedEssist have been a common trend over the course of the pandemic. According to the 2021 Ownr Entrepreneurship Report, over a quarter of entrepreneurs surveyed (26 per cent) started their businesses in 2020 to address a gap in the market that was created by the pandemic. From February to September of 2021, entrepreneurs who registered their businesses within the technology, healthcare, and business services sectors accounted for 20 percent of all new incorporations through Ownr.
Growing a new business during a pandemic
Growing a company that’s playing an active role in a global pandemic is no easy task. Besides serving their pharmacy customers, MedEssist also needed to focus on the daily tasks that would move the company forward.
As a young company, Almeida admits that building processes, hiring, and managing a team remotely can be challenging. Yet, keeping the team motivated and engaged alongside business development was critical.
“Our team has grown to more than a dozen people in barely over a year. We’re very lucky to have a team of passionate, empathetic folks that care about our customers and their patients.”
Almeida credits her team with helping to scale MedEssist, along with other technology tools like Ownr that aided in streamlining business operations.
Harnessing the power of tech to automate legal tasks
MedEssist turned to Ownr to manage the day-to-day legal tasks required to scale their business. “Ownr gives you that agility to move fast and carry on with your day which is incredibly empowering when racing against time every day and balancing so many competing priorities,” said Almeida.
In fact, Almeida used Ownr to get one of her first tasks checked off her list: getting incorporated. With Ownr, incorporating a business only takes a few minutes, and is offered at less than a third of the traditional cost.
“Talking to a lawyer for the first time as a new business owner can be overwhelming, wondering what you’ve missed, what you’ve left on the table, and what you should have done,” said Almeida. “Ownr made it simple to get the big rocks in the jar so you could move on to the next thing quickly. It’s also allowed us to hire quickly, track documents, record important files and dates and do it all seamlessly without involving large legal teams at the outset.”
Under CEO Shadi McIsaac’s leadership, more than 55,000 businesses have been launched using Ownr since incorporating its first business on the platform in November 2017. Ownr has now evolved into a platform that also helps with the legalities of running a business. Critical elements of small business ownership, such as up-to-date minute books, filing annual returns, changing directors and business addresses, can now be easily addressed using the platform.
“We’ve seen a huge demand on our platform over the past year and a half from Canadians who took the leap to business ownership,” explains McIsaac. “Ownr offered an easy, affordable way for entrepreneurs to incorporate their business independently without all the complicated paperwork.”
Keeping the momentum going
As MedEssist took their next steps, Almeida was able to leverage Ownr’s many other useful services. Since MedEssist’s vision is to revolutionize how pharmacies serve their patients, as their business grew, so did their need to onboard pharmacies as part of their network.
“With COVID-19, things were changing constantly and as a startup that played a role in helping Canadians access their COVID-19 vaccines, we were hiring and managing a lot of things simultaneously. Ownr helped us stay organized, set reminders for important tasks, and made it easy to be accountable to our team.”
When starting and managing a new business, entrepreneurs can be inundated with these types of administrative and operational tasks. With tools to simplify entrepreneurship like Ownr available, the aspirational sentiments toward being a business owner continue to prevail.
The appetite for entrepreneurship remains strong, despite economic challenges
An introspective workforce means many individuals are embarking on new ventures. For Almeida, and others looking for a change of pace or personal fulfilment, the sky’s the limit.
These shifting attitudes were also observed in Ownr’s second report titled the 2021 Ownr Entrepreneurship Revival Report which found that more than half of entrepreneurs surveyed (54.6 per cent) held corporate jobs before launching their own businesses and one of the biggest motivators that entrepreneurs had to pursue their business dream were to gain more purpose in their lives (37.6 per cent).
The pandemic has certainly inspired more Canadians to reassess the value they are getting from their careers and exposed the vulnerabilities of working a traditional 9 to 5 as an employee. MedEssist is a perfect example of this growing appetite for purpose-driven entrepreneurship, which is reinforced by the growing demand for Ownr’s services throughout the pandemic.