Amazon’s announcement that it plans to acquire Whole Foods means we could soon see significant changes to the way people do their grocery shopping. Meanwhile, CNBC has reported that the online retailer is also considering ways it might break into the multi-billion dollar pharmacy market.
Michael White, chair of UConn’s School of Pharmacy, said Amazon should stay away from the prescription drug business. He said drugs just aren’t like other things you can buy from Amazon.
"Unlike socks or refrigerators, things like that, drugs have the capability to dramatically change the course of what happens to people either for good or for bad," White said. "Different people have different amounts of drugs that they can tolerate. So I think when you lose the face-to-face interaction between you and the pharmacist, you’re taking away one of the lines of the safety net that’s put into place."
“The other problem with prescriptions is that if they’re too expensive, people don’t take them,” said Doug Hirsch, co-founder of Good Rx, a website that monitors prescription drug prices at pharmacies across the U.S.
He acknowledged that there are unique complexities in this market, but if, in the end, there are lower prices, he’d be thrilled to see Amazon enter the business.
Hirsch said people who buy prescription drugs online now are already offered opportunities to speak with pharmacists by voice or video call.
"It's always good to have consultation available to a consumer," he said. "It's always really important that the consumer be able to afford that prescription and take it in the first place."
And if Amazon entering the business were to lead to more transparency in the legendarily murky prescription drug market, he’s all for it.
Still, UConn’s Michael White argues that a main driver of high costs is not necessarily the dispensing fee, but prices charged by drug manufacturers. And though filling prescriptions in a large centralized mail order facility may seem more efficient, he’s not sure that’s a good thing.
"One of the most efficient ways to get people medication is to send them 90-day supplies, 'cause you’re already locating the drug, putting it in a vial," White said. "You’re already putting a label on it, but one of the problems of doing that is that you increase the risk of waste."
The Japan Times is reporting that Amazon has already begun same-day service there for certain prescription drugs.