Online pharmacies are here to stay—here’s how you can take advantage of them at your practice

Updated on March 22, 2024
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Online pharmacies are not new. These types of pharmacies, which have also been referred to as internet or mail-order pharmacies, have actually been around for years, but it’s undeniable that their popularity has surged in recent times. This is due to the effects of COVID on patients and consumers, as a much higher value is now placed on delivery services that allow people to stay home instead of having to run errands. 

Whatever the reason, healthcare providers are now facing the fact that they must integrate with these online pharmacies in order to meet their patients’ evolving needs. And gaining a better understanding of those patient needs is the first step to doing so. That’s why Software Advice recently ran a follow-up patient survey to understand how patient experiences and sentiments regarding online pharmacies have changed since our original survey was conducted in 2022. 

Here’s what we found: 

  • Having to leave the house is still the number one drawback of physical pharmacies, with 34% of respondents selecting it as their top issue in 2022 and 40% in 2024.
  • In 2022, 51% of patients saved up to $50 on prescriptions using online pharmacies. In 2024, 41% say the price is the same regardless of what type of pharmacy they fill their prescriptions with. 
  • In 2022, most patients saved between six to 30 minutes of their time using online pharmacies; but in 2024, half of patients save between 11 minutes and an hour.

What stayed the same

A strong preference for convenience, that’s what. Patients still aren’t keen to leave their homes to pick up prescriptions, so online pharmacies continue to hold that advantage over traditional brick-and-mortar pharmacies. 

In 2024, 78% of patients say not having to leave their home is the number one benefit of online pharmacies, and 40% say having to leave their homes is the number one drawback of traditional pharmacies. Both of those percentages have increased since 2022. 

The message here is clear: Patients are demanding convenience when it comes to filling prescriptions, and online pharmacies provide that. For healthcare providers, this means that incorporating these types of pharmacies into their e-prescribing systems is crucial. 

What changed

We noticed two major changes in our survey comparison from 2022 to today—one positive change and one negative change. 

The positive change is that patients are saving more time using online pharmacies than they were even in 2022. In 2024, 50% of patients say they save between 11 minutes and an hour of their time using online pharmacies versus going to a pharmacy in person to fill their prescriptions.

Similarly, more patients are using e-prescribing options from their healthcare providers by having doctors send prescriptions directly to their pharmacies instead of collecting paper prescriptions and taking them to be filled themselves. This, again, highlights the importance for medical providers who hope to keep up with patient preferences to use e-prescribing software. 

SA graphic showing that more patients are having prescriptions sent directly to pharmacies in 2024

The negative change we saw from 2022 to 2024 is that patients aren’t saving as much money using online pharmacies as they were two years ago. 

In 2022, about half of patients said they saved between $1 and $50 using online pharmacies. Today, 41% of patients say the price of medications is the same regardless of where they fill their prescriptions. 

This is due to the rising cost of medications and is, unfortunately, out of any individual pharmacy or healthcare provider’s control. According to a government report from October 2023, the price of over 4,200 drugs increased between January 2022 and January 2023.

What is within the power of online pharmacy providers is the usability of their apps, and that was another thing we saw patients talking more negatively about in our survey this year. While mobile apps are now the number one method for patients to fill prescriptions, patient-rated usability of those apps has decreased since 2022. 

What this all means for doctors

The bottom line for healthcare providers is essentially the same as it was in 2022: Patients still want convenience, and they still expect providers to be able to send prescriptions to online pharmacies in order to fulfill that need. 

To make this easier, we asked patients in our survey which online pharmacies they have used so that providers can make sure they’re working with the top selections for their patients:

  • 29% of patients have used GoodRx
  • 28% of patients have used Amazon Pharmacy
  • 18% of patients have used OptumRx
  • 15% of patients have used Caremark
  • 10% of patients have used The Mark Cuban Cost Plus Drug Company

There are tons of popular online pharmacies in operation today, and most EHRs or e-prescribing platforms should allow you to work with multiple pharmacies. Your next steps are to check your existing software systems to find out which online pharmacies you can start sending patient prescriptions to, and begin to incorporate that into your daily practice as soon as possible. 

Lisa Morris
Lisa Morris
Associate Principal Medical Analyst at Software Advice

Lisa Morris is an associate principal medical analyst at Software Advice, a company that simplifies software buying. Through one-on-one conversations and trusted insights, industry-specific advisors guide buyers to top software options in as little as 15 minutes.