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Threat or opportunity? The growth of online

Boosted by the pandemic and evolving consumer needs, Care’s pharmacist Karen Baker says e-commerce has seen rapid growth, with pharmacy continuing its move to digital

Reports predict that online sales at UK pharma and health chain retailers are to grow by 36 per cent between 2021 and 2026 (Edge Retail Insight’s Pharma and Health Channel September 2021), galloping ahead of the channel’s store-based sales growth (5.6 per cent). For UK consumers, online pharmacies make it very easy to order prescription drugs, especially for those who live far from a traditional pharmacy, the elderly, people with disabilities, and those who work long hours. 

The ease of online also makes the process a lot quicker for members of the public, who can order medication within minutes and get prescription medicines delivered at home. New pharmacies can get off the ground without the massive investment of buying or leasing a unit.

However, one of the biggest disadvantages of the online pharmacy model is the lack of capacity for a physical evaluation. Without seeing or speaking to a customer, signs and symptoms that would have been picked up in a face to face conversation can be missed.

Services can be offered by internet pharmacies, but this is often via completing online questionnaires, so lacks the personal touch and immediacy of going to a bricks and mortar pharmacy. Another issue that can raise questions for many is the privacy of personal and financial information; there have been data breaches in the past.

Patient safety can be a concern. The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) says that currently, more than 30 per cent of fitness to practise cases are online pharmacy related. Unless the online service can reproduce that provided in a community pharmacy, for some, there will always be risks.

Although more people are embracing the technological advances now available, some people, such as the elderly, will always prefer the personal touch that can only be provided by a physical pharmacy. 

As the industry adopts more new technology and online sales increase – and apps such as the free Ultimate Guide to Care provide product information, training and news for pharmacy teams via tablet or smartphone it’s important that treatment, confidentiality and patient relations are not compromised.

Karen Baker is the pharmacist at Care, the family brand from Thornton & Ross

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