The traditional process of obtaining medications from brick-and-mortar pharmacies has witnessed a remarkable transformation with the advent of online web or app pharmacies and home delivery services. This article explores the multifaceted benefits of medication delivery, emphasizing convenience, accessibility, cost savings, treatment adherence, and personalized healthcare experiences. It will also address concerns such as patient safety, regulatory compliance, and the changing dynamics of healthcare relationships. By presenting a well-rounded view, we aim to highlight how these innovations are enhancing the healthcare experience for consumers.
Advantages of Online and Home Delivery of Medications
1. Convenience and Accessibility
Online pharmacies and home delivery services empower consumers to order medications from the comfort of their homes, eliminating the need for in-person visits. With the ease of e-prescriptions (escripts) consumers receive a digital prescription embedded in an email or SMSwith the click of a button by their doctor (via the Australian Digital Health Agency).
A study consisting of 1,032 adult survey respondents was conducted in March 2022 to gauge consumer perceptions of home delivery of pharmacy products. It revealed that only 30.9% had used one of these services despite 71.4% of respondents believing home delivery was more accessible and convenient than in-store drug collection. (Rana Abu Farha et al., 2022). In Australia 20% of consumers report accessing pharmacy products such as medicines via eCommerce channels (IAB eCommerce report, 2023)
Such a service provides convenience for patients with mobility challenges, chronic illnesses, or those residing in remote areas. The service is widely accessible as e-commerce pharmacies provide a user-friendly platform available through any internet connected device. Furthermore, with medication tracking, the worry of exhausting medication supply or forgetting to order is alleviated. Carolina Pharmacy (2021) say that using this service may be the “best investment to take into your health”.
2. Medication Adherence
Denver Health (2020) reported that only 50-60% of patients with chronic conditions who intend to refill their medication supply at a pharmacy actually did, resulting in over 100,000 preventable deaths in the United States, which costs the nation $105.8 billion in the year 2010.
Home delivery services enhance medication adherence by ensuring that patients receive their prescriptions regularly and punctually. Automated refills and reminders aid individuals in adhering to their prescribed regimens. This was reported in several studies revealing better health outcomes for patients using a mail order pharmacy (Denver Health, 2020).
Carolina Pharmacy (2021) demonstrated that non-compliance with medication instructions contributes to poor health outcomes. Skipping medication can be voluntary but is primarily due to inconvenient access. Research comparing outcomes of diabetes patients using mail order versus local pharmacies shows that the emergency room admittance rates of mail order users is 6.2% lower; 34.0% versus 40.2% (Schmittdiel et al., 2013). Hence regular delivery of medicine to the patient’s doorstep can decrease the risk of missing a dose, further enhanced by automated refill reminders.
3. Time Savings
Patients can save precious time that would otherwise be spent traveling to a physical pharmacy, waiting in lines, and picking up prescriptions. Online platforms facilitate effortless prescription refills, further streamlining the process.
57.9% of people believe that home delivery is only available for over-the-counter products (Rana Abu Farha et al., 2022), meaning patients are deterred from home delivery if they would need to travel to a physical chemist anyway to pick up their prescription drugs. In fact, some medication home delivery services such as Chemist2U allows patients to upload their script online and save time by having it delivered alongside their over-the-counter goods. (Chemist2U, 2023)
4. Privacy and Confidentiality
Online pharmacies offer a discreet channel for obtaining sensitive medications, reducing potential stigma associated with certain health conditions. Patients can safeguard their privacy, especially for medications related to mental or sexual health. The delivery system is highly discreet and confidential through sealing medication in opaque bags or containers delivered to the patient’s door.
5. Price Transparency and Comparison
Online platforms often have transparent pricing, enabling patients to compare costs and select the most economical option. Promotions, discounts, and generic alternatives can lead to substantial cost savings for consumers, along with government subsidy programmes such as Concession Cards and Safety Net.
Furthermore, a study by Software Advice expressed that 61% of individuals saved around $20 each time they ordered delivered medication rather than picking it up, due to a reduction in travel (Salib, 2022).
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Challenges in Ensuring Quality and Safety
1. Patient Safety and Verification
Overseas online pharmacies may not consistently adhere to rigorous safety and verification standards, raising concerns about medication authenticity and safety when ordering medication into Australia. Pharmaceutical Technology revealed that the counterfeit pharmaceutical product market has a $200 billion industry and grows at 20% annually. Often the drugs are sugar pills meaning that the patient misses their required doses posing significant risks to patient health. (Salib, 2022)
Consumers should be aware of foreign medication delivery providers and avoid any home delivery service that does not appear legitimate through brief social media and scans of customer reviews, to avoid scam and serious health, safety and financial consequences.
2. Loss of In-Person Interaction
The shift toward e-pharmacies may result in the loss of in-person interactions with pharmacists who offer valuable advice and counselling. The opportunity to ask questions or seek clarification regarding their medications is omitted. Some concerns have arisen with the growth of remote health assessments in the modern world of internet and telehealth consultations (Wells, 2015). Lack of in-person interaction can lead consumers to “inappropriately self-diagnose or self-medicate, engage in medically unnecessary behaviour or substance abuse, or potentially encounter drug-to-drug interactions, contraindications or adverse effects,” as described by the International Pharmaceutical Federation (Salib, 2022).
To counter this, some pharmacy delivery services such as Chemist2U provide patients access to a customer care team of pharmacists and dispense technicians through a phone call or web chat. Chemist2U have also introduced Home Medicine Reviews to ensure patients are taking their medication correctly, from the comfort of their home.
In addition, some patients with chronic illnesses who have difficulty leaving their home may rarely be able to interact with others in the community. A delivery driver distributing medication to patients in Bristol said “interactions with the patients to whom I deliver medicines may be one of the few they have with anyone in the community. So, I aim to make every contact count,” (Jamieson, 2021) ensuring those in need of human contact can get a small dose upon delivery.
3. Regulatory Challenges
The online pharmaceutical market grapples with regulatory challenges, as monitoring and regulating the multitude of online pharmacies can be demanding. Ensuring compliance with prescription laws and maintaining quality control standards remains an ongoing concern. In Australia, various state governments have different regulations pertaining to the delivery of medicines, including a requirement to ’hand’ medicines directly to a consumer on delivery.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) reveal that there are legitimate online chemists, requiring a patient’s details and prescriptions, however scam emails have circulated enticing consumers with cheap prices and script medication that has ‘no need for a prescription’ (Wells, 2015).
Reputable online pharmacy businesses, such as Chemist2U, will always require the customer’s prescription before dispensing medication.
4. Medication Delays and Errors
Delivery services may encounter delays or errors that disrupt the timely receipt of medications, leading to frustration or anxiety among patients. Ensuring seamless and error-free deliveries is essential.
In response, advanced services in the industry often engage technologies to ensure correct order filling. According to a survey, deliveries are more accurate than physical stores (Venjamuri, 2022)..
5. Data Privacy and Security
A study showed that 8% of people are concerned about cybersecurity threats when using an online pharmacy (Salib, 2022). Such a business model necessitates the sharing of personal and medical information, sparking concerns about data privacy and potential security breaches. Safeguarding patient data and maintaining confidentiality are critical challenges.
The Role of Healthcare Providers and Patients
1. Prescription Verification
For healthcare providers, prescription verification becomes a seamless process in this era of home delivery. Rigorous verification ensures that medications are dispensed only with proper authorization, minimizing the risk of misuse or unauthorized access. This enhanced control safeguards patient well-being and ensures compliance with regulatory standards. The use of electronic prescriptions minimises this risk.
2. Patient Education Promoting Better Health Outcomes
Patients are now empowered with knowledge about the risks and benefits of medicine home delivery. They understand the importance of proper medication storage upon receipt, reducing the likelihood of medication degradation and enhancing treatment effectiveness. This education fosters a sense of responsibility and active engagement in one’s health. Further, certain medications, such as semaglutide, require cold chain storage and this needs to be factored into the delivery process.
3. Reporting Adverse Events
Equally important is the proactive reporting of adverse events. Both patients and healthcare providers are encouraged to report any concerns related to medications to relevant authorities. This culture of accountability ensures swift intervention in case of issues, further bolstering patient safety and reinforcing trust in the healthcare system.
The emergence of online and home delivery services for medications is reshaping the pharmacy landscape, offering unprecedented convenience and accessibility to patients. Nevertheless, these innovations also raise important concerns related to patient safety, regulation, and the potential erosion of traditional healthcare relationships. Striking a balance between the benefits and disadvantages of these services is crucial as the healthcare industry continues to evolve. Policymakers, healthcare professionals, and patients must collaborate to maximize the advantages of online and home delivery of medications while addressing the associated challenges and risks, all while maintaining high standards of quality and safety. Consumer-centric pharmaceutical delivery services are at the forefront of this transformative shift, making healthcare more accessible and patient-focused than ever before.
Australian Digital Health Agency. (2020) Electronic prescriptions: a convenient alternative to paper prescriptions. Digitalhealth.gov.au. https://www.digitalhealth.gov.au/initiatives-and-programs/electronic-prescriptions
Admin Carolina. (2021, December 2). How Patients Can Benefit From Pharmaceutical Delivery Services. Carolinapharmacy. https://carolinapharmacy.com/how-patients-can-benefit-from-pharmaceutical-delivery-services/
Chemist2U. (2023). https://chemist2u.com.au/
IAB eCommerce Report. (2023). Australian ecommerce: The changing shape of the local ecommerce and retail marketing landscape. IAB Australia. https://m.iabaustralia.com.au/asset/466:iab-pureprofile-australian-ecommerce-report-2023pdf
NSW Government. (2019). Supply of prescription medicines – Pharmaceutical services. Nsw.gov.au. https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/pharmaceutical/Pages/legal-form-prescription.aspx
Wells, L. (2015). Online pharmacies: a consumer perspective. Australian Prescriber, 38(6), 187–187. https://doi.org/10.18773/austprescr.2015.074
Rana Abu Farha, Alzoubi, K. H., Rizik, M., Samar Karout, Itani, R., Mukattash, T. L., & Eman Alefishat. (2022). Public Perceptions About Home Delivery of Medication Service and Factors Associated with the Utilization of This Service. Patient Preference and Adherence, Volume 16, 2259–2269. https://doi.org/10.2147/ppa.s377558
Venjamuri, R. (2022). The Benefits of Using a Prescription Delivery Service. iLiveActive. https://www.iliveactive.com/Blogs/The-Benefits-of-Using-a-Prescription-Delivery-Service
Schmittdiel, J. A., Karter, A. J., Dyer, W. T., Chan, J., & Duru, O. K. (2013). Safety and effectiveness of mail order pharmacy use in diabetes. The American Journal of Managed Care, 19(11), 882–887. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4278640/
Salib, V. (2022, October 19). Understanding the Rise of Digital Pharmacies. PharmaNewsIntelligence. https://pharmanewsintel.com/features/understanding-the-rise-of-digital-pharmacies
Denver Health. (2023). The Benefits of Using Mail Order Pharmacy. Denverhealth.org. https://www.denverhealth.org/blog/2020/11/the-benefits-of-using-mail-order-pharmacy
Jamieson, S. (2021, February 12). The medicines delivery service was a lifeline for our most vulnerable patients during the COVID-19 pandemic – The Pharmaceutical Journal. The Pharmaceutical Journal. https://pharmaceutical-journal.com/article/opinion/the-medicines-delivery-service-was-a-lifeline-for-our-most-vulnerable-patients-during-the-covid-19-pandemic