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Amazon’s Pharmacy

My take on the future of the Community Pharmacy.

Most community pharmacists are not happy. At all. And, they’re terrified. Everyday fearing their pharmacy will have their technician hours cut, again. Fear that their pharmacy might get acquired, or worse, announce its’ last day of business. Community Pharmacy is dealing with a lot of changes, like exploring new revenue models and dealing with insurance reimbursement rates declining. In addition, consumer behavior is much different than it was 10 years ago when the community pharmacist was in very high demand. This is all a prescription for disaster. It’s unsustainable. The business may be sustainable, but at the expense of a terrible environment for pharmacists and technicians to work in, unhappy customers, but more importantly, unhealthy patients. So, how does this all get fixed? Amazon’s entrance into the pharmacy world.

Yes, Amazon.

Well, it may not fix it all, but Amazon will create the pharmacist’s dream job. Stick with me here. Let’s face it, the operations of a traditional community pharmacy has been commoditized. Anyone can get a prescription filled accurately, anywhere. In many areas literally every street corner. And that prescription can be filled very quickly. People already expect to wait for no more than 15 minutes for their prescription to be filled. Any longer and they won’t be a satisfied customer. Amazon will soon have the infrastructure to do this without a patient stepping foot into a pharmacy. They’ll be able to have that patient’s medication (via drone or ground delivery) at their doorstep only hours after their appointment with their prescriber.

Let me be clear about the term “Amazon’s Pharmacy”

What I’m referring to is the model, scale, and branding abilities of the 21st century pharmacy. Today, there’s a pharmacy called Pill Pack, which may now be called PharmacyOS (I think they rebranded/restructured or something). In my opinion, they seem to be leading the space of this new type of pharmacy. But, Pill Pack, along with every brick and mortar pharmacy, will be in trouble with some serious competition when Amazon figure’s out pharmacy operations with the Whole Food’s acquisition.

So what’ll actually change? A lot! But more importantly, the role of the community pharmacist. The operation of a community pharmacy has already began to implement robots and tech to get a prescription filled and it’s only the beginning. The good news is, with this change, we’ll actually have the ability to be pharmacists again, not worrying about putting a label on a bottle or about returning medications to stock. As a matter of fact, a pharmacist may never “verify” a prescription again. We are literally just making sure two sets of words match each other. Amazon will be able to program a robot to easily do that. Especially when states follow New York’s lead to make all prescription delivery exclusively electronic. The accuracy and volume of which prescriptions can be verified will soon far exceed that of a human’s ability while drastically decreasing pharmacy workflow errors (aka QREs).

The most important thing (to me at least) about Amazon’s Pharmacy is the fact that it may not have a pharmacist in it’s physical pharmacy. That’s right, the Pharmacist of Amazon’s Pharmacy may never set foot in an actual pharmacy. Let that settle.

The Process

Here’s a breakdown of what it would look like:

  1. Patient goes to the physician (or pharmacist) with a problem that requires a prescription medication. Prescriber then sends said prescription to Amazon’s Pharmacy for review.
  2. A Pharmacist at his/her private office then reviews the medication for safety, convenience, affordability, and effectiveness to make sure it’s the absolute best option for the patient. If it’s not, or if they’re any issues, the pharmacist will then communicate and resolve that issue with the prescriber.
  3. Upon final approval by the patient’s Pharmacist, Amazon will then initiate the already commoditized filling and delivery of said prescription to the patient.

Pharmacists will spend more time:

  • Educating patients about using their medications and how to get the best results
  • Address adherence and noncompliance
  • Help prescribers make more informed decisions on optimally treating diseases for their patients
  • Medication synchronization

And less time:

  • Typing/filling medications
  • Dealing with register transactions
  • Returning medications to stock
  • Deciphering prescriber’s terrible hand writing
  • Storage and inventory handling

The role of the pharmacist can then take on more responsibilities. Whether we’re working closer with prescribers or just having more time to educate patients and the public about their health and best ways to use their medication.

The commoditization of having prescriptions filled will do wonders for the profession of pharmacy and personally, I’m really excited for it. Our role will purely be that of leading patient’s medication management strategies. You know, that thing we went to school for.

It’s easy to be worried about robots taking our jobs. But don’t be. Amazon’s Pharmacy (or the like) won’t be taking your job. They’ll be taking the “jobs” we didn’t go to pharmacy school for. It’ll provide us with the freedom to be the pharmacists we’ve always dreamed of becoming.

Up next: Amazon’s Pharmacist.

Thanks for reading.

-Richard

P.S. Hey Amazon (or Pill Pack), by any chance are you hiring pharmacists? Asking for a friend…

Richard Waithe, PharmD | Richard@MedVize.com

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