Ecommerce: Will E-Pharmacies Become the Norm?
Your neighborhood pharmacist has a new address — they’re now on the web. While brick-and-mortar CVS and Walgreens can still be found in thousands of American cities and LloydsPharmacy is a dominating chain throughout much of Europe, the days of waiting in line — or even hitting up the drive-thru — for your meds are quickly fading into the past.
Welcome to the e-pharmacy. Just like e-commerce, the e-pharmacy is exactly what it sounds like: pharmacists take medication orders online that are then delivered straight to the recipient’s doorstep. Unlike so many other industries, the e-pharmacy market isn’t being fueled by millennials or gen-Zers, but instead by baby boomers and is expected to be a $155.4 billion industry by 2026 -- and that’s just in the United States.
Much like telemedicine that allows patients to connect with world-class doctors from the comfort of their homes, the e-pharmacy industry has a number of advantages with convenience being at the very top of that list. According to the Mayo Clinic, convenience was the motivating factor for over 50 percent of people who used online pharmacies (44 percent of customers said a lower cost was their primary reason for choosing one).
Not surprisingly, the COVID-19 pandemic saw a surge in people seeking out e-pharmacies as an alternative to putting themselves at risk by visiting a traditional pharmacy. There’s also the advantage of greater accessibility. Because brick-and-mortar pharmacies keep a limited inventory, customers may not always have access to needed medications. However, since online pharmacies aggregate their supplies, they have greater access to certain hard-to-find medications.
There’s also the benefit of discretion. In addition to providing everything from general headache medicine and cholesterol and diabetes medication, e-pharmacies provide medications that some patients may be more reserved about acquiring such as Viagra or the morning after pill. The script can be filled and delivered in as little as 24 hours with discreet packaging to ensure privacy.
Despite convenience, discretion, and the appeal of reduced costs on medicine for consumers, e-pharmacies do have challenges. Online pharmacies tend to fall into three main categories: independent online-only pharmacies, online branches of “brick-and-mortar” pharmacies, and sites representing partnership among neighborhood pharmacies.
The United States and Europe have largely been able to bypass concerns about the potential for online pharmacies as being a dangerous liaison for drugs to be sold online without being prescribed by a doctor or with poor guidance. Regarding prescription-only medicines, an online pharmacy must receive a legally valid prescription before any medication is ever dispensed. Essentially, they function just the same as a normal pharmacy and you’ll either need a paper prescription or an electronic prescription from your healthcare professional.
As for the concern of illegal online pharmacies shipping any variety of outdated or dangerous drugs across international borders and misleading consumers. To combat this, the European Union has issued a logo for all legal and authorized pharmacies. Similarly, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has a guide to help consumers determine if the online pharmacy in question is legitimate and safe.
The idea that the medicine could be coming from several states away or even a foreign country and lacks any sort of verified trail of origin is also a misconception. Any medication from a verified e-pharmacy will always be tracked, and any inappropriate product can be traced back to its manufacturer. Transparency in the system is of the utmost importance if credibility is to be maintained.
India has seen its own struggles with the growing e-pharmacy market and nearly half of online orders are rejected because of various prescription-related errors. The country has been slow to bring its Drug & Cosmetics Act of 1940 up to date with the internet, despite the emergence of e-commerce. A host of regulations and account for the industry’s unfavorable growth and e-pharmacies constitute only 3 percent of pharmaceutical sales in India
Just as e-pharmacies can provide life-saving medications and empower people in rural parts of the U.S. and U.K. to make better-educated decisions regarding their health, they offer an overwhelming benefit to consumers in India who may not have a traditional pharmacist in close proximity.
The advantages of e-pharmacies clearly outweigh the obstacles that stand in the industry’s way and with consumers staying at home and shopping online more than ever, e-pharmacies are only filling more prescriptions.