Doug Halsall | Reimagining healthcare with online pharmacy
The current global pandemic has led to many rethinking the way they do business and coming up with ingenuous ways to continue commerce while serving the needs of their customers. Almost every type of business has been affected in some way; the healthcare industry is no exception.
While there will always be need for care and medicine, the fact that people are urged to stay home as much as possible and avoid gathering in large groups means that there needs to also be an adjustment in how these types of businesses operate.
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, telemedicine became more popular with physicians and the population at large for these very reasons. It was convenient and safer to stay at home and remotely visit a doctor. However, this is just one aspect of the healthcare ecosystem, and without the others being done in a similar vein, the potency of that measure will be diluted, especially if persons thereafter have to physically go to their pharmacies to fill and collect prescriptions.
There is already a large market for online pharmacies. Zion Market Research published a report titled ‘E-Pharmacy Market by Drug Type (Prescription Drugs and Over The Counter Drugs): Global Industry Perspective, Comprehensive Analysis, and Forecast, 2018–2025’. According to the report, the global e-pharmacy market was approximately US$42.32 billion in 2018 and is expected to generate around US$107.53 billion by 2025, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of around 14.26 per cent between 2019 and 2025.
There is no surprise, therefore, that several large companies have entered the online pharmacy and e-prescription business. Amazon is one such. It has started a company called PillPack, which acquires and refills medication on behalf of its customers. PillPack liaises with the patient’s doctor and insurance and sorts medication by dose.
Deliveries are made, including those for monthly prescriptions, on a schedule as required. Refills are automatic, deliveries are to the patient’s door and there is an opportunity to directly speak with a pharmacy 24/7.
Another company called Capsule offers hand-delivered, same-day medication drop-off. The physician sends the prescription to Capsule, which then contacts the patient via text message to schedule delivery. These businesses make it much easier for patients to receive medication without having to do any part of their healthcare in person.
These are convenient; however, a central approach to offering pharmaceutical services may be more beneficial to the patient.
Another type of business that can facilitate this and has picked up during the pandemic is e-commerce, with more and more persons opting to have food and products delivered. What if we can pair this model with pharmacy? Not just having individual pharmacies selling their products online, but have a remote ‘village’ on an e-commerce platform where all pharmacies can be and the patient can select the one that they would like to use.
This would make it easier for the pharmacies, as they each would not need to develop and maintain their own website but simply sign up to an existing e-commerce platform, which would host their online store. Think of it as a marketplace for pharmacies online where patients would be able to go into a section of the platform that only displays pharmacies in an easy grid and from there they can choose to stay with the ones they are accustomed to using or that are closer to their home.
This is in no way a marvel idea. There are already e-commerce platforms in Jamaica and major ones that are emerging. The difference here is that various businesses can be grouped as types to give customers options. Someone in Montego Bay, for example, would simply select a pharmacy located there to reduce delivery charges. They could also just be accustomed to using a particular pharmacy and pharmacist and decide to retain their services, regardless of where they may live.
We have everything we need locally to make this a reality. It simply requires partnership which would not be difficult to put in place. The online market is getting larger and larger because of customer demand. Pharmacies can also take advantage of this digital paradigm shift that has weaved its way across the healthcare industry.