U of T health-care startup MedEssist makes patient management software to modernize pharmacies, helping deliver population-scale health initiatives.

For many Canadians, the local pharmacy is their primary point of contact in the health-care network. Until recently, most independent pharmacists lacked the modern tools and software to develop patient profiles that would aid them in providing proactive personalized care at scale. 

University of Toronto startup MedEssist is changing that with its patient management software designed for pharmacists. Founded by U of T alumni Joella Almeida (BA 2018 WDW) and Michael Do (B.Sc. Pharm 2010), MedEssist turns pharmacies into modern and proactive health-care hubs that can deliver population-scale health initiatives, like the COVID-19 vaccine.

Almeida, a graduate of Woodsworth College in the Faculty of Arts & Science with a degree in political science, equity studies and diaspora and transnational studies, brings an accessibility and equity lens to her work with MedEssist, while Do, who graduated from the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy in 2010 and manages a pharmacy in Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood, has tapped into his own experience and network to prioritize the needs of pharmacists. Do has been a U of T preceptor at the Faculty for many years and is well-known amongst students who often pick his site and the startup as their main rotation before graduation.

At the core of their mission is to ensure pharmacies can adapt to meet the requirements of local communities, taking a massive health-care initiative, such as trying to vaccinate the entire population, and bringing it down to the neighbourhood level.

Scaling up patient management software to help tackle the pandemic

Now, with its platform in hundreds of pharmacies across Canada, MedEssist is playing a key role in aiding the COVID-19 immunization drive. 

“Pharmacies using MedEssist are set up to manage the patient interaction and answer complicated questions about the vaccine. This is what pharmacists and their staff have been trained to do,” says Almeida. 

As fears of a “twindemic” loomed this past fall, MedEssist saw pharmacies use their platform to triage the most at-risk patients to the top of their waitlist for flu vaccines. “This issue of unpredictable supply with any vaccine is not new,” shares Almeida. “We could have planned for this as a country last year because the flu shot has had delays for the past 10 years.” 

As the first and only inventory-based platform for vaccine scheduling, MedEssist enabled pharmacists to prevent overbookings and cancellations because every appointment was tied to pharmacy inventory. “There was a dose waiting for every patient with their name on it,” says Almeida.  

The success of MedEssist’s platform during this past flu season is what led them to close a deal with PharmaChoice and RxHealthMed—two of the largest pharmacy groups in the country, representing 900 independently owned-and-operated pharmacies. 

Following suit, the Ontario Pharmacist Association (OPA) recently announced their partnership with MedEssist to provide pharmacists with digital tools to help safely and efficiently deliver large quantities of vaccines.

Adding to MedEssist’s recent successes, Almeida won first place for the later-stage startup category at Pitch with a Twist hosted by ICUBE at U of T Entrepreneurship Week in March 2021.

MedEssist built their platform in U of T’s innovation network

MedEssist was a member of the 2019 cohort of startups at U of T’s Health Innovation Hub (H2i), one of 11 accelerators spread across the University’s three campuses.

Through H2i, the team received guidance from the University Health Network-Techna Institute of Biomedical Engineering and the Faculty of Dentistry Translational Biology and Engineering Program, as well as a valuable office at the centrally located ONRamp co-working space at the Banting Institute. MedEssist also tapped into the research-backed expertise at U of T to support them throughout their journey, especially from Dr. Paul Santerre, Professor of Biomaterials, Director of H2i, and Baxter Chair in Health Technology and Commercialization. “Dr. Paul Santerre was absolutely invaluable with clinical advice and feedback—he was just outstanding,” says Almeida. 

Through H2i and their close ties to U of T, Almeida and Do also had access to a breadth and depth of alumni expertise that was instrumental in developing MedEssist. “U of T’s alumni are so strong and powerful. It doesn’t matter what you studied, they will be there for you,” shared Almeida.

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