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Iowa City-Based TelePharm Helps Rural Pharmacies Stay Afloat

Roby Miller comes from a family of pharmacy owners. But the Iowa native says he never planned to go into the family business—that is, until it was in trouble.

After Miller's parents closed one of their pharmacies and sold the other to Hy-Vee, he began to reevaluate the way rural towns treat pharmacies.

"When I saw their business model kind of dying I was like, ‘Well there's a lot of pharmacies in America and if a pharmacy isn't viable in these small towns, there's got to be a solution that comes in,'" said Miller, the founder of Iowa City-based startup TelePharm.

In fact, over the last two years alone, Miller said that 46 rural pharmacies—meaning the store is at least 10 miles from another location—have closed. On the national scale he said 903 out of a total 6,500 rural pharmacies are now out of business.

So he and his father began looking into telepharmacy platforms, like the one developed by the University of North Dakota, and received approval to establish a pilot program in Iowa.

"I kind of built the first application just for (my parents) to use it," Miller said. "I wasn't really thinking I was going to build a business from it."

But he realized soon after that there was a demand for telepharmacies—both from residents of small, rural communities and from pharmaceutical companies alike—and TelePharm was born.

The platform virtually connects pharmacists with pharmacies and their patients, especially in underserved communities, such as rural Iowa towns, where a traditional pharmacy may not be sustainable.

Thanks to a waiver from the Iowa Board of Pharmacy—telepharmacies are currently not legally allowed—the state's first telelpharmacy opened in November. Iowa governor Terry Brandstad joined Miller in a celebration to open the location in Victor, Iowa, which has a population of just under 900. Now with six full-time employees and operations in Iowa, Illinois, and Texas, TelePharm celebrated its public launch roughly a month ago.

"I wanted to make sure that I had an internal team and a scalable application before we officially launched," Miller said. "So we're primed and ready for that growth now."

TelePharm in October received funding from the Iowa Economic Development Authority's Demonstration Fund and last week it received more state financial support—this time to the tune of $25,000 in royalties—from the organization. These funds, along with others Miller said the company plans to raise in the near future, will help grow the TelePharm team and roll out the product on a national scale.

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