In case you haven’t heard the news, Amazon Inc., the large online retail giant, recently acquired Pillpack, an online pharmacy, for nearly $1 billion. Within hours, the stock prices of Rite Aid, CVS, and Walgreens, the 3 largest pharmacies in America lost a combined $11 billion in market value. It is clear that Amazon is primed to challenge the establishment and disrupt the pharmaceutical world. Pillpack is an online pharmacy which distributes medications in easy to use packages which contain pictures of each tablet along with directions on how it should be taken. In addition, they are licensed to deliver medications in all 50 states. So, what does this mean for patients? Online pharmacy is still a relatively new model that most Americans have not fully adapted to. Nearly 90% of all prescription medications are filled at a traditional pharmacy (Walgreens, CVS, etc.). However, the opportunity arises for Amazon to shake up the standards. So, what are the Amazon advantages? With a market value of almost $850 billion, Amazon is in a position to offer lower drug prices with consumers and compete with the traditional $4 generic medication plan that companies like Walmart provide. Also, patients who may be uninsured or have high deductible plans, may be enticed to switch to Amazon through incentive plans and aggressive pricing. They are also able to offer a very important commodity to the modern world, convenience. Many people love to one-stop shop, so being able to get all of your goods and medications from one place may be very desirable to many people. Amazon is banking on utilizing its massive delivery model to dispense medications more efficiently versus actual in person patient care. So, will it work? Will millions of people switch over from traditional pharmacy to Amazon? Not so fast! Patients who may need urgent medications, like an antibiotic or a pain medication would still need to go to a traditional pharmacy. Also, many pharmacies offer same-day delivery of medications, and incentives for mail order delivery just like Amazon. However most importantly, many people, especially the elderly population still desire personal conversations and interactions versus the online format. As a community pharmacist for over 5 years, I became very familiar with many of my patients and their families. I’ve seen families expand and grow and prayed with patients fight terminal illnesses. I’ve given countless immunizations, counseled mothers about medications for their young children, and given weight loss advice to people struggling with obesity. These relationships are essential to maximizing patient care. The people that you interact with daily become more than a prescription number and you feel responsible for their health and wellness. This is the essence of the job and trust is that intangible concept that cannot be measured in delivery times or discounted medications. The profession is built on trust between patient and the pharmacist. It is why many people still go into the bank for their needs although most banking services can be done from an app or on a computer. We want to identify and talk to the people who are responsible for our money. In pharmacy, patients want to know and trust that their pharmacy will take care of their medications and health. Trust is the unaccounted factor that will keep traditional pharmacy being a viable commodity. There is no doubt that a big fish like Amazon will make waves in healthcare and challenge everyone to improve. Which means that when the dust settles, the real winner will be the patient.
By Dr. Charles Johnson Pharm. D