Amazon: The Pharmacy of the Future?

Telemedicine may be the key to success

Amazon has demonstrated a knack for disrupting other major players in the retail industry and the e-commerce giant may be at it again, making headlines for its interest in breaking into the U.S. pharmacy market, according to an article posted on The Health Care Blog.

Mail-order pharmacies, however, have been around for decades, author Ryan Marling points out. Amazon will instead have to find a way to reach less-competitive markets with its option of drug delivery. It can do this, Marling says, by teaming up with another disruptive technology: telemedicine.

Along with the convenience of care at home, telemedicine is being used for acute and chronic-care cases. In fact, Kaiser Permanente’s CEO Bernard J. Tyson recently reported that, last year, more than half of Kaiser’s patient visits were conducted via online portals, virtual visits, or the health system’s apps.

“Amazon’s e-commerce platform can capitalize on the growth of telemedicine by finding ways to seamlessly integrate the process of ordering prescription drugs from its website into the virtual visit experience of major telemedicine vendors,” Marling writes. “By doing this, the common workaround of the physician having to find a pharmacy near the patient to send in the prescription can be overcome. Instead, the familiar Amazon checkout process can be used to approve the order, sale, and delivery of prescription medication directly to the patient.”

Marling suggests that by integrating its medication delivery services into the virtual visit process of major telemedicine vendors, Amazon can make its online pharmacy easily available in markets where patients lack convenient access to care or a pharmacy. In this way, the company can avoid direct competition with established pharmacy competitors, who tend to concentrate in wealthy areas, and improve its odds for early success. Over time, Amazon’s medication delivery option will reach more patients and will become more and more attractive as the delivery speed of Amazon and its affiliates improves.

The U.S. health care system is increasingly adopting new payment models that shift financial risk onto providers to manage the costs of patient care, Marling observes. This additional risk has compelled providers to find ways to improve medication and regimen compliance among patients. In many ways, Marling says, Amazon is already building the capabilities that providers seek—to influence personal behavior and consumer habits outside the doctor’s office. Its new personal assistant technology Alexa, for example, may be able to remind patients to take their medications, send an order to refill a prescription, or assist in scheduling a telemedicine appointment––all by voice command in the home.

Amazon has the opportunity to stake its claim as the pharmacy of choice for providers and patients engaging in virtual health care at home, and can grow alongside the booming telemedicine technology, according to Marling. To do this, the e-commerce powerhouse will have to successfully integrate ordering and checkout from its pharmacy into as many telemedicine processes as possible, and continue its progress in influencing consumer behavior at home.

Source: The Health Care Blog; June 7, 2017.