By Matthew Moore
Scheduling an appointment to get the COVID-19 vaccine can be challenging, but one pharmacist in Little Rock is working hard to make it easier than ever.
Brittany Marsh, owner of Cornerstone Pharmacy at Rodney Parham Road in Little Rock, one of hundreds of pharmacies around the state administering the vaccine but is using a high-tech twist to do the job. Marsh and her pharmacy have partnered with tech entrepreneur Cyrus Massoumi to be a provider for his latest healthcare tech venture: Dr. B.
Brittany Marsh, center, with Allison Ingram (left) and Kyleigh Stout (right)
Massoumi made his mark on the healthcare industry by starting Zocdoc. The company name pays homage to Massoumi’s grandfather, who was nicknamed Dr. Bubba and became a doctor during the 1918 pandemic. The Dr. B website labels itself “a standby list for COVID vaccine doses that are about to expire.”
“We’re actually the original [pharmacy],” Marsh points out, “and Cyrus and his team approached us because they wanted Dr. B to be available to different people in different places and settings.”
Two of the major vaccines distributed in America come at high maintenance cost. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine must be stored in an ultra-cold freezer, and the Moderna vaccine is also stored at below-freezing temperatures, though not as cold as the Pfizer drug. Neither of the two vaccines can be refrozen once thawed.
There seems to be two major pain points for citizens trying to get shots in their arms. The first is the difficulty to book an appointment to get the vaccine. Pharmacies across the state have tried a variety of approaches with their patients, from sending an email, to filling out a form on their website, to calling on the phone to see if they have availability. So far there has been no government assistance to build any sort of infrastructure to work to centralize the booking process.
Another problem was that early in the vaccination process, Marsh didn’t always know how many doses she was receiving. That made it difficult to schedule appointments in advance due to the supply uncertainty. The second pain point is the vaccine itself. Once a dose of the vaccine has been thawed, its shelf life is pretty short. Marsh and her team are administering 400 to 500 doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccine, but the number of no-shows or last minute cancellations has increased as vaccines have become more available.
These two major complications have been seen as an opportunity for a non-government outlet like Dr. B to help streamline the process. On one side is the average citizen, who enters their phone number, along with their date of birth and zip code to begin the process. After a few health and occupational questions, the patient is added to the list. Local pharmacies can sign up to be providers, free of charge, and Marsh encourages all providers to join Dr. B. “It’s super user friendly, very easy to use.”
While Dr. B does require internet access initially, one advantage is that by using cell phone numbers, a relative or community volunteer can sign up on behalf of others. There’s also no more need to constantly refresh a batch of pharmacy websites in hopes of scoring a rare opening. Dr. B also has a Spanish language version of the website available as well.
With the help of Dr. B’s services, Marsh has been very successful going through all of their vaccines. “We’ve been trying to pull from our reservation system, we use our scheduling system, so that we’re getting the right people in the door. We’ve not wasted a single vaccine and we take it very seriously.”