In the US, online shopping giant Amazon has just acquired an online pharmacy called PillPack.
In the wake of this move, local pharmacy experts have been considering the possibility that e-pharmacies could be a massive step forward for people who struggle to access medication in South Africa.
Erik Roos, chief executive of Pharma Dynamics, said selling medicine online could have life-saving benefits for patients living in rural areas.
“The advent of online pharmacies creates opportunities for increased access to medicines, convenience, more competitive pricing and patient anonymity,” he said.
“By supplying medicines online, e-pharmacies are able to warehouse large quantities of stock, which reduces the cost of medicines. Most of the daily processes are also automated, making it faster for doctors and pharmacists to prescribe and dispense medicines.”
The success of e-pharmacies in the US has yielded some insights into who stands to benefit from the service.
“Research shows that internet purchases are typically higher in rural areas where the distance to a pharmacy is likely to be greater than in urban areas, which is significant in the South African context where approximately 34.7% of the population live in rural areas and have to travel 25km or more to access health care,” Roos said.
According to the chief executive of the Pharmaceutical Society of South Africa (PSSA), Ivan Kotze, e-pharmacies would not be in the best interest of patients.
“Medicines are not a normal commodity of trade,” he said.
“Before any medicine is taken it is essential to discuss this with a pharmacist as even some supplements affect other medicines that may be consumed.”
Roos acknowledged that there were risks associated with the online purchasing of medication, such as the lack of face-to-face interaction with a pharmacist and the potential for criminals to pose as legitimate medication providers.
“Local legislators would need to focus on developing the right policy with laws regulating it to enhance the benefits, while minimising the risks to consumers,” he said.
“As internet use becomes more universal in SA, along with increasing healthcare costs, e-pharmacies are an inevitable phenomenon.”