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E-commerce: are e-pharmacies changing into the norm?

The queues at CVS are running out thanks to the widespread adoption of e-commerce.

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16, 2020

4 min read

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Your neighborhood pharmacist has a new address – it's now on the Internet. While CVS and Walgreens can still be found in thousands of American cities and LloydsPharmacy is a dominant chain in much of Europe, the days of waiting in line – or even passing through – for your medication are quickly fading into the past.

Welcome to the e-pharmacy. Just like with e-commerce, the e-pharmacy sounds exactly like this: pharmacists take medication orders online, which are then delivered directly to the recipient's doorstep. In contrast to so many other industries, the e-pharmacy market is not being driven by millennials or geneticists, but rather by baby boomers. An industry of $ 155.4 billion is expected by 2026 – and that's only in the US.

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Much like telemedicine, which allows patients to connect with world-class doctors from the comfort of their homes, the e-pharmacy industry offers a number of benefits, with convenience topping this list. According to the Mayo Clinic, convenience was the motivating factor for over 50 percent of people who used online pharmacies (44 percent of customers said lower costs were the main reason they chose a pharmacy).

Unsurprisingly, with the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more people were looking to e-pharmacies as a way of putting themselves at risk by visiting a traditional pharmacy. There is also the benefit of better accessibility. Because stationary pharmacies have limited stocks, customers may not always have access to the medicines they need. However, as online pharmacies pool their supplies, they have better access to certain hard-to-find medicines.

There is also the benefit of discretion. Not only do e-pharmacies offer everything from general headache medicine to cholesterol and diabetes medication, but also medications that some patients may be more reluctant to use, such as Viagra or the morning-after pill. The script can be completed and delivered in just 24 hours with discreet packaging to ensure privacy.

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Despite the convenience, discretion and the appeal of reduced drug costs to consumers, e-pharmacies face challenges. Online pharmacies can usually be divided into three main categories: independent online-only pharmacies, online branches of stationary pharmacies and websites that represent a partnership between pharmacies in the neighborhood.

The United States and Europe have largely bypassed concerns about the potential of online pharmacies as a dangerous compound for selling medicines online, without a doctor's prescription or poor guidance. Regarding prescription drugs, an online pharmacy must obtain a legal prescription prior to dispensing any medication. In essence, they work just like a regular pharmacy and you will need either a paper prescription or an electronic prescription from your healthcare professional.

Regarding the concern of illegal online pharmacies shipping a wide variety of obsolete or dangerous drugs across international borders and misleading consumers. To counteract this, the European Union has issued a logo for all legal and licensed pharmacies. Similarly, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has a guide that consumers can use to determine if the online pharmacy in question is legitimate and safe.

The idea that the medicine could come from several states or even from a foreign country and that there is no verified trace of origin is also a misunderstanding. All drugs from a verified e-pharmacy are always tracked and any inappropriate product can be traced back to the manufacturer. Transparency in the system is of the utmost importance if credibility is to be maintained.

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India has its own problems with the growing e-pharmacy market and almost half of online orders are turned down due to various prescription errors. Despite the advent of electronic commerce, the country has been slow to update its Medicines and Cosmetics Act of 1940 with the internet. A multitude of regulations and unfavorable growth in the industry and e-pharmacies only account for 3 percent of drug sales in India

Just as e-pharmacies can provide life-saving medicines and empower people in rural parts of the US and the UK to make more informed decisions about their health, they also offer an overwhelming benefit to consumers in India who may not have a traditional pharmacist around .

The benefits of e-pharmacies clearly outweigh the barriers that stand in the way of the industry. With consumers staying at home and shopping online more than ever, e-pharmacies are only filling out prescriptions.

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