Jul 19 2018

The One Thing Amazon Can’t Offer Pharmacy Customers…

Disruptive,” “gamechanger,” and “the start of something big,” were among the terms used to describe the impact’s planned acquisition of online pharmacy PillPack may have on the prescription drug industry.   According to the transaction will give Amazon the ability to “ship prescriptions around the country, and overnight, making it a direct threat to the more than $400 billion pharmacy business.”

Indeed, the June 2018 announcement was met with a collective gasp by the prescription drug industry, with sharp stock sell-offs among pharmacy chains, drug distributors, pharmacy benefit managers and health insurers.  “The pharmacy industry has entered its next phase of evolution,” Adam Fein, CEO of Pembroke Consulting’s Drug Channels Institute told CNBC.  “Expect a pharmacy shakeout over the next five years.”

Such predictions though, seem to ignore the premium patients place on their relationships with pharmacists – to have a quick question answered, discuss a health condition, ask an opinion about a particular medication, or for any number of reasons.  Patients value the role of the pharmacist and seem to be in no rush to give that up.

Boehringer Ingelheim’s 2016  Pharmacy Satisfaction Pulse survey found more than 80 percent of patients had spoken with pharmacists and pharmacy staff in the past year, which was an increase over 2014 levels.  The strong majority of those conversations focused on questions about new prescriptions and prescription refills, with most frequently discussed topics including:

  • How medication should be taken (i.e. with/without food)
  • Potential side effects
  • Dosage information
  • Medication costs
  • Importance of adherence
  • Drug safety information.

Important to note:  90 percent of patient respondents found those conversations to have been “of value,” with more than half describing them as “extremely valuable.”

The ability to have these one-on-one discussions is something Amazon – with all its advantages – simply cannot offer.

 As reported by MarketWatch, research conducted by GlobalData after the acquisition was announced found that while 61 percent of consumers “are happy with the mail in order service,” many would also like the option of a physical presence, with nearly 58 percent saying “they’d have at least a minor concern about sharing medical and health information with Amazon.”

One industry analyst suggested that Amazon’s electronic assistant Alexa could help address these concerns.  According to CNBC, Arielle Trzcinski, a senior health-care technology analyst at Forrester suggested Alexa could remind patients to take their medication, and could even be programmed to know how much medication a patient has left.  “Amazon would automate that process and say, ‘Okay, I know we’re nearing the end of the month, so I’ll automatically refill your prescription to make sure you get that one time,’” Trzcinski said.

Whether or not patients are willing to trade in their one-on-one conversations with their pharmacists for Alexa, and whether Amazon has the predicted disruptive impact on the traditional pharmacy, remain to be seen.  But as long as patients continue to value their relationships with their pharmacists – and that sense of allegiance is increasing – there will always be one thing that Amazon cannot deliver.