Amazon and PillPack: What now for the pharmacy sector?

amazon11For as long as I can remember, pharmacy has been under threat. The biggest external threat has been the push for deregulation from supermarket chains wanting to operate pharmacies in their stores.

Australia’s ever-fighting, ever-present Pharmacy Guild has managed to keep this external threat at bay for now, but the past week has shown what can happen when the bricks-and-mortar obstacle is removed, and regulated products and services move online.

As a pharmacist and online retailer, it has taken me a few days to mull over Amazon’s acquisition of PillPack and what it means for our pharmacy and healthcare sectors.

Ultimately, PillPack offers what many pharmacies have been offering their customers for years: the organisation of medications into adherence packaging and home-delivery service. So why doesn’t every pharmacy generate US$100 million in revenue?

While we have been busy upskilling traditional healthcare professionals to be able to provide the highest of standard care, we have missed one vital piece of changing information.

The way people choose to access and receive health information, and how they want to engage with healthcare services, has changed. In a time where the word ‘busy’ is the only answer to the question ‘how are you?’, this is sadly remiss of us.

PillPack gives back to its customers the time they would have otherwise spent speaking to a pharmacist to have their prescription filled or waiting while a pharmacist liaises with doctors to fill a new prescription for their ongoing medication. PillPack delivers medication to the customer’s door in compliance-friendly packaging and, because it is based in the US, also takes care of insurance payments.

This tells me something really important. As pharmacists, we need to value the goodwill we have built within our community, so we are brave enough to see the misconception that there is no loyalty once we move our business beyond the comfort of physical shopfronts.

In the success of PillPack, we see the beginnings of how this can happen.

Of course, Amazon had its own strategic interests in acquiring PillPack, but it seems PillPack ticked all of Amazon’s boxes as the company strives for total retail domination.

PillPack’s structure takes care of the regulatory piece, which has always kept pharmacy safe from disruption in the past. This means Amazon can hit the ground running as it widens its reach and insight into the 55-year-plus age cohort, the biggest consumers of prescription medications.

There is nothing keeping the pharmacy industry safe. The only safety is in its ability to change, adapt and grow with consumer needs, wants and engagement.

But for all this acquisition says about the importance of convenience, I can’t help but wonder whether PillPack – and now Amazon – has missed something, as they strive for a better pharmacy experience.

Pharmacy is often the first place people present with a health concern, probably sometime between searching Dr Google and before they see their GP.

As a healthcare industry, how can we improve the pharmacy experience in all its functions and purposes, not only the administration of prescription medications?

Julia Simmonds is a pharmacist and co-founder of natural skincare company itchy baby co.

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