Will Online Drug Sales Transform the Industry?

Amazon is not hiding its intention to embark on the online sale of drugs, a prospect that is pushing Quebec’s pharmaceutical industry to reflect on its breakthrough in the digital world. But pharmacists are not about to stop having their well-established place in the community.

Let it be said, despite the threat of serious competition from internet giants it is unlikely that the Quebec pharmacy community will develop complete platforms to sell drugs online.

Here, distribution of drugs is regulated to remain under the control of pharmacists who are members of the Ordre des pharmaciens du Québec, which does not have the sole goal of product sales, but support of the patient. According to Christophe Augé, president of the Association professionnelle des pharmaciens salariés du Québec, “there is little chance that digital models meeting all the criteria for excellence in pharmaceutical care can be developed, and for this reason competing with the internet giants on their own territory is not a promising avenue.”

It also worries pharmacists for safety reasons – most of them are reticent to send prescriptions electronically. Nonetheless, Quebec pharmacies will not be able to escape it completely and the community is seeking its ideal model. “There are already postal pharmacy systems which could serve as a basis for new online pharmacies,” explains Christophe Augé. “But it can be envisaged only to the extent that the process of communicating prescriptions can be made more secure.”

It appears that there are possible avenues: some insurance companies in Canada are inviting their customers to use the Express Scripts platform, an online pharmacy where it is at least possible to renew and transfer prescriptions.

Most importantly, pharmacists are seeking the best way to continue to provide pharmaceutical care through digital means and are finding many limitations. Some, such as pharmacist Alexandre Chagnon, have nonetheless taken the bull by the horns. His site Questions for a pharmacist, supported by a hundred volunteer pharmacists, offers professional responses to many questions from internet users. Familiprix has recently put a similar site online. The Picard Desjardins online pharmacy is also a pioneer in the field.

Will the pharmacist of the future know how to manage a website? Will he spend his days in front of his computer answering questions from his digital patients? Maybe not, but he will undoubtedly have to add it to his range of skills.

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