The online pharmacy phenomenon

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					                                                                                                                                   INTERNATIONAL TRENDS 27

The online pharmacy phenomenon
Online pharmacy offers significant benefits to the consumer, however are we ready to give up the human touch provided by
the front line pharmacist?

                                  In the past decade, the growth      products are still being distributed   medications for their own use. For      both a health point of view but
                               of online pharmacies has been an       through the traditional channels.      elderly patients, people with a busy    also a privacy and confidentiality
                               international phenomenon with the         Online pharmacy can offer           lifestyle or those living in remote     aspect. Around 60 per cent of all
                               first major site being introduced in   significant benefits to the            rural areas, mail order can provide     spam sent through the internet
                               the US in 1999. Cheaper and more       consumer. Many patients feel           a convenient alternative to visiting    relates to medications and many
                               widespread access to the internet      more comfortable purchasing            the local community pharmacy.           of these sites are simply after
                               via high speed data lines has          medications online, especially         While online pharmacy is really         credit card information. Choosing
                               fuelled e-commerce tremendously        when the medication is of a            only suitable for medications that      a verified and legitimate internet
                               since and now there are more than      sensitive nature, such as anti-        treat chronic conditions such as        pharmacy is paramount and
                               800 different websites offering        impotence drugs and herpes             hypertension, diabetes and the like,    there are websites that can guide
                               pharmaceuticals in the US alone.       medication. Asking questions           these pharmaceuticals account           consumers on what to look for.
                               In 2008 the US prescription mail       online can also provide the            for around 80 per cent of all           In Britain, the Royal Pharmacy
                               order market was worth US$19.8         consumer with a sense of privacy       prescription sales. It is noteworthy    Society of Great Britain has
                               billion and still growing.             and anonymity. Lower prices are        in this context that despite the        developed a logo that is applied
                                  In Australia, there has been        generally on offer due to lower        suitability of the distribution         to legitimate online pharmacies
                               a similar uptake of mail order         overhead costs and it is easy to       method for the chronically ill and      which are registered through the
 Joerg Heise is Chairman       pharmaceuticals with one of the        compare prices between different       its above mentioned advantages          society, similar to that of the Quality
 of the Board of Directors     country’s largest online companies,    sites. In the US, it is increasingly   for certain patient groups only         Care program developed by the
 of Efficient Dispensing       ePharmacy, being launched              popular for patients who do not        a minority opts for the online          Pharmacy Guild in Australia. There
 Systems Pty. Ltd., which      in March 2000. In Germany,             have health insurance to purchase      channel. It proves that ultimately      was widespread criticism last
 distributes Willach           approximately 10 per cent of           their medication from foreign          there is no surrogate for the           year when the EU decided not to
 dispensing solutions in       pharmacies have applied for an         online pharmacies in Canada and        counseling and human touch of           legislate against online pharmacies.
 Australia. Willach is a       online licence and one to two per      India where significant savings can    the front line pharmacist and it also      For legitimate patients, remote
 German-based company          cent of prescription sales and five    be made. While it is technically       shows that the patients accept that     supply means there is less
 that specialises in           to six per cent of OTC sales can       illegal to import FDA approved         this service comes at a price.          opportunity for pharmacists
 the engineering and           be attributed to this distribution     medications into the US, the              However, there are also potential    to provide counselling and
 manufacturing of pharmacy     channel. This means that the           Government does not generally          risks when purchasing medications       interaction. Telephone consultation
 dispensary solutions.         vast majority of scripts and OTC-      stop individuals from importing        online. Online pharmacies now           or online interface is offered by
 Willach has more than 40                                                                                    operate worldwide although for          most internet pharmacies but this
 years experience in the                                                                                     some sites the country of origin        is generally something that needs
 pharmacy industry and                                                                                       cannot be identified and very           to be initiated by the patient.
 export solutions to more                                                                                    few display quality accreditation       Traditional roles such as the
 than 30 countries. For more                                                                                 seals. Internationally, some online     demonstration of medical devices
 information, email Joerg at                                                                                 pharmacies do not dispense drugs        and assessing the suitability of                                                                                 through licensed pharmacies             medication upon observation (eg.
                                                                                                             and this increases the chance of        provision of weight loss medication)
                                                                                                             receiving substandard or even           are made nearly impossible without
                                                                                                             counterfeit products. It is estimated   face-to-face consultation. In the UK
                                                                                                             that the global counterfeit medicine    it has been reported that one-in-
                                                                                                             market is worth a staggering $45        four GPs have treated patients with
                                                                                                             billion a year and between 50 and       adverse reactions to medicines
                                                                                                             90 per cent of medicines in some        purchased over the internet.
                                                                                                             African and Asian countries are         As the pharmacist’s role moves
                                                                                                             counterfeit or stolen.                  from one of primarily distributing
                                                                                                                While in Australia, in order         medications to provisioning of
                                                                                                             to dispense a prescription              professional services and long-term
                                                                                                             medication, the online pharmacy         disease management, it will be
                                                                                                             must first receive a legitimate         interesting to see how or even if
                                                                                                             Australian prescription by post. In     online pharmacies in Australia can
                                                                                                             other countries patients can apply      accommodate these new services.
                                                                                                             to the site for a certain medication    Their weakness can be exploited
                                                                                                             without any prescription. The           by community pharmacies as a
                                                                                                             customer will then also need            method to combat the discounts
                                                                                                             to supply their medical history         on offer by ensuring that the focus
                                                                                                             which the mail order pharmacy           is on getting the pharmacist out
                                                                                                             will pass on to a doctor, who after     from behind the counter and
                                                                                                             reviewing the patient’s profile will    consulting with patients.
                                                                                                             write a prescription if they feel          Building customer loyalty
                                                                                                             it is appropriate. This opens up        and a good pharmacist-patient
                                                                                                             the possibility for people seeking      relationship is becoming
                                                                                                             addictive medication to provide         increasingly obvious as a strategy
                                                                                                             misleading information and source       that community pharmacies
                                                                                                             drugs of dependence. Interestingly      should embrace. With health
                                                                                                             the most common drugs                   costs placing an ever growing
                                                                                                             purchased on the internet are           burden on the public health
                                                                                                             Prozac, Viagra, Valium and Ritalin.     sector, governments will also
                                                                                                                Some fraudulent websites claim       seek to capitalise on the ease of
                                                                                                             to supply prescription medication       accessibility to the pharmacist as a
                                                                                                             without any prescription at all         health care provider and not simply
                                                                                                             which is extremely dangerous from       a distributor.

                                                                                                                                MARCH 2010 WWW.ERETAILPHARMACY.COM.AU

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