Amazon->  Friend or Foe?

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I love my smart phone.  I can order dinner from my phone, I can schedule transportation from my phone, I book yoga classes and my kids haircuts from my phone, and I have already started doing my Christmas shopping, exclusively from my phone.

I know I am not alone here.  The dramatic rise in on-line commerce has risen at what could be seen as an alarming speed for industries that could be left behind.  The disruption felt in an increasing number of industries is not slowing down and pharmacy is starting to become one of those targets.

The trouble is that the perception of pharmacists is as providers of prescriptions. The value is in what the patient receives, which is a product.  Patients are always looking for the “what’s in it for me?”  If they can be offered speed and convenience (ie: order my prescriptions on my phone and have them delivered to my door) what’s stopping the vast and catastrophic wave of patients leaving their community pharmacies?
We cannot compete in speed, convenience, online platform, name recognition, familiarity with process or even price with monolithic companies such as Amazon.  When Amazon announced its purchase of Pillpack, the big three in the U.S (Walgreens, CVS and Rite-Aid) lost $11 billion dollars in value; the loss due to just the announcement.  What happens when Amazon actually starts filling prescription orders?

Will patients go for it?  Wall street analysts state 85% of insured Amazon Prime members are open to buying their drugs on the site.
The question we as pharmacists need to ask ourselves is, “Why should our patients come to our local pharmacies instead of ordering their prescriptions online?”

If our patients’ experience in our pharmacies is the provision of a product, then we will lose them.  If they interact with the pharmacist only when they receive a “new” prescription, and the pharmacist “counselling” entails giving them information and saying they can call them with any questions, again we will lose them.  Information is no longer a valuable commodity in the information age.  Our patients are walking around with Google in their pockets, and artificial intelligence today is just the tip of the oncoming iceberg.

As pharmacists we must demonstrate our value to patients through active engagement.  We cannot wait for patients to come to us with their questions.  It doesn’t matter how smart we are, or how many specialty certifications we have, or how many CEUs we attend if patients do not experience our care as actively impacting their quality of life.  Ultimately patients are asking, “What’s in it for me?”  With every interaction we can show patients the irreplaceable value of a face to face relationship with their pharmacist.  The value of the pharmacist is only realized when it is experienced.

If the ensuing disruption leads to pharmacists taking the lead in their own future and engaging patients to demonstrate the value of face to face care, then it will be a magnificent revolution.  If we do not embrace the disruption and choose to maintain the status quo, then we may very well end up with a lot of time on our hands to do our shopping from our phones.