The nature of pharmacies is changing. We’re moving from a predominantly conventional brick-and-mortar model to one where patients get the majority of prescriptions online.
But what’s driving this? The internet is certainly playing a role – the necessary enabling technology has been around for at least two decades – but there’s more to it than that. Consumer expectations are also changing, and people now expect and demand services that allow them to get prescriptions as easily as ordering products from Amazon.
Having said this, it is likely that both types of pharmacies have a future. Patients will probably mix on- and off-line services depending on their needs – just as they do for regular retail shopping.
If you are a current brick-and-mortar pharmacy owner. There is a strong case for adopting a hybrid approach: keeping a brick-and-mortar store for now, while fleshing out your online services.
Benefits Of Online Pharmacies
So what are the benefits of online pharmacies?
They Are More Convenient
Patients are crying out for convenient pharmacy options that deliver prescriptions without the need for them to travel.
According to the WHO, around two billion people worldwide have no access to medicine at all. Individuals who live a long way from the nearest store and elderly/disabled people who can’t move around easily stand to benefit the most.
They Provide Plenty Of Medical Information
Online pharmacy sites, such as oxfordonlinepharmacy.co.uk, also provide valuable, in-depth information on drugs and diseases that patients can consult at their leisure. These resources make it easy to find out more about their medical conditions and the drugs used to treat them. They can then use what they learn to consult their doctor about the right strategy for them personally.
They Have Streamlined Drug Approval Processes
Although online pharmacies haven’t been around for as long as their conventional counterparts, they still have strong drug approval policies in place. Many require prescriptions and review by doctors before they dispatch the medication. Thus, patients don’t have to manually take paper prescriptions and hand them to the pharmacy clerk before receiving their drugs. It’s all done electronically or over the phone.
They Offer More Choice
Because online pharmacies have fewer physical space constraints, they are also able to offer customers more options. Many have a larger range of stocked drugs, negating the need for patients to travel to more than one pharmacy to get the medications they need.
They Are Private And Confidential
Many patients struggle to speak about their health problems publicly. Certain issues such as STDs, hair loss, sexual dysfunction and acne can make it hard to approach professionals for help.
Pharmacies that allow online ordering avoid losing this custom. Because customers don’t have to interact directly with a person, they are more likely to buy.
They Save Customers’ Time
Customers also find online pharmacies compelling for another reason: they save time. It takes just a matter of minutes to log onto a pharmacy website, select the required medications and pay. Patients can often save more than an hour by avoiding travel and waiting for medicines to be made.
They Offer Lower Prices
Just like ecommerce stores tend to offer lower prices than their brick-and-mortar rivals, so too do online pharmacies compared to conventional alternatives. Online pharmacies can locate their facilities anywhere they want – including inexpensive estates out of town. What’s more, they do not have to cater to customers on site, allowing them to lower their fixed costs further. Overall, this leads to a lowering of price – up to one-third by some estimates – making it easy for you to undercut the competition.
They Sell To A Wider Audience
Lastly, online pharmacies can expand their businesses nationally (and even internationally) with relative ease. All they require is a website for patients to order, a physical facility for storing medications and processing orders, and a distribution network.
Expanding is much more challenging for conventional pharmacies. It requires renting new retail units, fitting them out, and distributing inventory to multiple nodes, ensuring that each pharmacy has sufficient stock for the local area.
The Benefits Of Conventional Pharmacies
While online pharmacies have their charms, so too do conventional pharmacies. Here’s why:
They Take Care Of Patients
Patients have the opportunity to develop relationships with pharmacists when they visit conventional pharmacies. In-person interactions help medical practitioners learn more about a patient’s history, their medical conditions, and which drugs work best for them. They can also advise about precautions and possible dangers verbally, instead of relying on patients to read the fine print. Many patients find this valuable, putting brick-and-mortar stores at an advantage.
Patients often seek out pharmacy services for advice on minor symptoms, such as a runny nose or sore throat. Again, conventional pharmacies are in a position to help. Patients can simply tell you their problem and get advice on the best non-prescription medicine to resolve it, all without the need to consult a doctor.
They Can Monitor Drug Usage
In terms of wider medical outcomes, pharmacists also have the ability to monitor drug utilisation rates. They can engage in activities such as monitoring for adverse drug reactions or practice research projects.
Online Pharmacy Versus Conventional Pharmacy: Which Is Better?
Online pharmacies are becoming more popular because they satisfy patients’ demand for convenience. They also offer more choice and provide helpful information that customers can use to learn more about their medications and conditions.
However, there are some downsides to this business model. Online pharmacies can struggle to physically examine customers (even if they offer e-consultations). They can also struggle to warn patients of possible drug interactions if they source medicines from multiple providers.
Conventional pharmacies don’t suffer from these problems so much. However, they have some serious drawbacks. For instance, it can take time to source unavailable drugs from nearby pharmacies and prices tend to be higher. Furthermore, some patients may find it exceptionally difficult to physically travel to the store. So establishing a new, successful conventional pharmacy can be challenging.
The problems that face online pharmacies will likely be solved in the future. Better e-consultations will proxy for physical evaluations, patient IDs that apply across all sites will prevent harmful drug interaction issues, and better data control will safeguard personal and financial information. By contrast, the problems facing conventional pharmacies probably won’t go away. It will remain difficult for them to offer patients the level of convenience, affordability and choice of their online rivals.