The Internet has revolutionized every aspect of human life: from social interactions to e-commerce. Amazon, the world’s giant online retailer, started off as an online bookstore back in the mid-1990s. Today, you can purchase virtually anything from the e-commerce store from the safety and comfort of your home. Pharmacies have not been left behind,filling an important gap that left by traditional drug stores. The multi-billion pharmaceutical industry is highly regulated across the globe to protect lives of those seeking medicine for a myriad of conditions.
Why the Steady Growth
Unlike traditional pharmacies that are location-specific, you can access a pharmacy online remotely from anywhere in the world; all you need is an Internet enabled device such as smartphone phone, laptop or tablets. This means that access to medicine is not limited to your physical location. They are also convenient and affordable since medicine from other countries such as India and Mexico are fairly priced compared to similar ones from the United States or the UK. Buyers also have access to a wide variety of medicine from hundreds of online pharmacies, you can always find the right drugs for your condition.
Just like any other ecommerce service, online pharmacies are not free from risks. The main challenge has been on the quality of the medicine sold by these sites. It is not easy to identify legit from , which is not the case with conventional medicine. There are also higher cases of medication errors since there is no direct patient-pharmacist interaction resulting in uptake of medicine without supervision, taking medication under unfavourable condition and mix-ups with other drugs.
Despite the complex nature of the industry, the e-pharmacies are picking up and experts project that they are bound grow rapidly in the coming years. In fact, there have been rumours that Amazon is seriously considering venturing into this industry. What does that then mean? With approximately 1 in 6 American consumers having bought some form of drugs from an online pharmacy, one can only see an industry that has lots of potential to grow. To realize that growth, here are some emerging to watch out for.
1. Proper Regulation
Different countries have specific requirements, but a close analysis shows many similarities. In as much as it is a requirement that all pharmacies and drug dispensing stores be licensed by their relevant bodies, this is not the case for most of online pharmacies. As a result, there have been cases of some websites selling banned, expired, counterfeit or smuggled drugs online. This poses serious health risks to the unsuspecting consumers across the globe. In future, it is expected that sellers of drugs online must comply with strict regulations.
There is need to hire experienced pharmacists to dispense these drugs. Unfortunately, a large percentage of individuals dispensing medicine online are common people with no specialized training in the field. As a result, chances of wrong instructions or sale of wrong medicine are a bit high. Having a physical address that will be used as a contact point whenever there is need by the customers as well as the authorities is an important requirement that all sellers will have to comply with.
2. Improved Customer-Pharmacist Interaction
As complicated as it might sound, it is possible to attain some level of buyer-pharmacist interaction online. The adoption of live chats by online pharmacists is rapidly picking up. This service is essential in helping the pharmacists understand the buyer’s condition, properly instruct on dosage, answer questions and provide other important information. This can be done through video chats or social media. It is believed that this form of interaction will reduce challenges related to miscommunication between the two parties. It is also important for better customer satisfaction, information on the cost of the product, availability and shipment details.
3. Over-the-Counter Vs. Prescription Medicine.
You can buy any type of medicine online; both and prescription-only medicine. There is actually no limit on what medicine to buy or medical condition to treat when purchasing medicine from an online pharmacy online. However, it has been noted that online pharmacies are gladly selling prescription drugs to anyone interested irrespective of whether they have a doctor’s prescription or not. Some, instead of demanding for the prescription from the doctor, simply ask their customers to fill online questionnaires. This might not be as effective. Most buyers find it cumbersome and expensive to consult a doctor for a prescription before buying. These rules are rigid but online pharmacies are working on mechanisms to improve on this. One option that has been recommended is to compel the doctor to directly contact the selling online pharmacy with the prescription on behalf of the buyer.
Even though this mode is seen as a sure way to minimize risks related to the drugs, it is faced by three main challenges: it limits the buyer from purchasing the drug from any store since the doctor cannot be asked to contact each one separately. It is also seen as inconvenient, as the patient losses the freedom to request for medication whenever need arises. Also, there are no mechanisms of authenticating the prescription as having originated from a practicing doctor, leading to a rise in fake prescriptions. Irrespective of what is adopted, there is need to regulate the sale of prescription drugs online.
4. Emphasis on Techno-legal Requirements
As things stand now, anyone can, or purport to own an online pharmacy. Research indicate that 80% of web surfers settle on the first page of the search engines results page (SERPs), with a majority trusting the first three results. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that the sites that appear on top are the best based on the keywords. Countries such as the UK have clear regulations following a change in the 2005 amendments to the NHS’ pharmacy regulations.
Going forward, there is a lot of emphasis on the need for privacy, protection of the buyer’s data, and compliance with relevant cyber laws by all e-pharmacies, among others.
5. Online Marketing
Marketing is very essential in the growth of any industry. To survive online, every business, including e-pharmacies, have to invest heavily in marketing. The use of various online marketing methods such as social media, email marketing, network marketing, affiliate marketing, video, content marketing, and many others have been rising as businesses struggle to lock in more online clients. This will eventually result in a boost in the whole sector, leading to the availability of a wide variety of drugs targeting various conditions.
It has been difficult for authorities to effectively regulate online pharmacies. This has exposed buyers to risks related to the medications. Nevertheless, many countries are currently working towards proper regulations that will lock out non-complying businesses, leaving only legitimate e-pharmacies that comply with set regulations to operate. As difficult as this might sound, it can be achieved with concerted efforts from all stakeholders, from the regulators of the pharmaceutical industries to pharmacists and buyers.