Taking Specialty Care to New Levels
Taking Specialty Care to New Levels
He owns four pharmacies and has launched multiple specialty health services, yet Jason Cridge still finds time to mentor the next generation of pharmacy innovators
When you’re on a mission, there’s no time to waste. Jason Cridge is focused on filling service gaps he sees in the healthcare system, so, less than a decade after graduating from pharmacy school, he has already pursued numerous entrepreneurial ventures, some of which are helping transform patient care across his hometown of Victoria, B.C., and beyond. Today, Cridge owns a chain of pharmacies in Victoria as part of Cridge Family Pharmacies, with a fourth location set to launch in late 2023. And as one of his most recent ventures, last year he co-founded Cognito Health, an online mental health platform that is filling a need by providing accessible and affordable mental healthcare access to patients across the province.
A Collaborative Model For Mental Health Care
“Cognito is truly a collaborative platform with healthcare professionals working together,” he says, noting that patients visiting the website (www.cognito.ca) are connected with a practitioner for an assessment within hours. Once assessed, patients are paired with a physician or nurse practitioner to discuss possible medication options which can be delivered to their homes, and later called back by a pharmacist to talk about potential medication issues as needed.
A care coach continues to meet with the patients virtually every two weeks to manage anxiety and depression through cognitive behavioural therapy and mindfulness. “We have designed a platform that I think is the best treatment for mental health because medications are not the only answer,” says Cridge. Patients accessing the platform come from all parts of the province and 75% of them are women; 40% are women between the ages of 20-35. While the program is not covered by private insurance or public health plans yet, Cridge says the monthly fee of $99 a month aims to be an affordable option. “We can achieve this level of affordability because we operate with less overhead than the brick-and-mortar providers.”
Long-term, the goal is to ensure all Canadians in need of mental health care can access the platform. “I’d like to see Cognito expand across Canada within the next 12 months and to expand our service offerings to include other conditions, whether that be addiction, alcoholism or weight loss,” he says, noting that Cognito has already raised $1.8 million in seed funding from investors. “There is such a wide variety of conditions that need specialized health and patients aren’t getting that right now.”
For Cridge, this passion for patient care and pharmacy was first inspired in high school via his uncle and mentor who owned several community pharmacies in Vancouver. Cridge was always interested in math and science, but his uncle provided an intriguing window into the business aspect of operating a pharmacy. “In opening my first pharmacy, I realized it was going to be a lot harder than I initially anticipated,” admits Cridge. “I started specialty program after specialty program that were unsuccessful before hitting a few home runs a few years later.
Seeing Patient Care Gaps, Creating Solutions
One of those wins was achieved by opting to carry an automated dispensing machine called Spencer in his pharmacies. This machine, placed in patients’ homes to dispense medications for them throughout the day, proved particularly useful for seniors on complex medication regimens who had some level of cognitive impairment. “At one point we had the most patients in North America on that machine,” he says.
When the local health authority put a call out to help patients unable to use even this type of machine, Cridge started a program to deploy nurses into patients’ homes daily to administer medications in-person. “Today we have 250 patients on that program and we’re supporting a lot of insulin-dependent diabetic seniors with cognitive impairment in the community,” he says. “One of the main reasons we do this is because 35% of long-term care admissions are due to some type of medication mismanagement issue—we’re keeping these patients at home and happy.” (Cridge was awarded the Bent Gant Innovation Practice Aware in 2018 for his involvement in both Spencer and the pharmacy-led nursing program.)
In addition to providing homecare services like these, Cridge says his pharmacies are able to distinguish themselves from competitors by offering specialty biologic contracts and compounding services. “There’s a big need for specialty programs in pharmacy, especially in my community, and a lot of corporate pharmacies weren’t stepping up,” he says. “Once we started providing these services and doing them well, a lot of providers came out of the woodwork asking us to design programs for their patients with specific needs.”
Sharing What He’s Learned
Each of his pharmacies today has an operating partner (a pharmacist or pharmacy manager) with “skin in the game” to help in building the business in their respective communities. Cridge employs 70 people across his pharmacy chain and another 30 as part of Cognito.
As someone who has always enjoyed sharing his insights with other would-be pharmacy entrepreneurs, Cridge was finding it harder to find time for these discussions as his business ventures and family expanded (he has two young children). So, in true innovator fashion, he started an online program for would-be pharmacy owners. The Zero to Pharmacy course (zerotopharmacy.com) features a series of modules on starting a pharmacy that cover everything from creating a business plan to selecting a banner and working with investors. “Pharmacists can work their way through all the business training they need to start their own pharmacy,” he says. “I made every mistake under the sun and I hope other independent pharmacy owners can learn from my mistakes.”
Through Cognito, Cridge also hosts a free monthly networking event called Health Tech Nights, where he brings together health authorities along with private sector healthcare entrepreneurs to discuss how to resolve current shortcomings in the public healthcare system. “It’s my way of giving back to the community and trying to foster the next big health-tech company,” he says.
As a father who typically works 60-hour weeks running multiple business ventures, Cridge avoids burnout by delegating and finding time for regular exercise. “My exercise may sometime mean doing a business call while I walk outside,” he says. “Wasting time is not something I like to do—I don’t spend a lot of time watching TV or on social media.”
He also points to having a great network of entrepreneurs from various industries he can turn to for advice and guidance. “The journey of entrepreneurship is difficult, so you always need support,” he says.
Media Contact : Rosalind Stefanac
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