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Why Amazon’s Announcement Creates Opportunity for Specialty Pharmacies

Speciality pharmacies across the country are reacting to the news that online retail giant Amazon is entering the pharmaceutical space. The news comes two years after Amazon’s acquisition of PillPack, the foundation for its pharmaceutical offerings. 

Competition can be anxiety inducing, and the turbulent stock prices for Walgreens, CVS, and a variety of pharmaceutical discount programs reflect this.

In this article, we'll discuss:

What Amazon is Doing
Things Amazon Isn't Doing
How You Can Remain Competitive

Here at Penrod, we view Amazon’s announcement as an opportunity for speciality pharmacies to adapt, improve, and succeed with a similar Amazon-level consumer experience. 

Things Amazon Won’t be Doing…Yet

While Amazon will carry a variety of name-brand and generic medications, they will not ship schedule II drugs. This leaves an opportunity open for speciality pharmacies to, in compliance with Sec. 1306.00 of Title 21 in the Code of Federal Regulations, offer something that Amazon Pharmacy doesn’t. 

Additionally, Amazon will not offer services to every state, meaning that pharmacies based in Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana and Minnesota have a unique advantage. 

The Advantage Specialty Pharmacies Have

Specialty pharmacies still offer personalized options that Amazon can’t. However, this doesn’t mean that patients won’t look elsewhere for digital convenience. After all, the biggest gap between smaller pharmacies and Amazon is the automated management, prescription fulfillment, consumer-grade patient portals, and physician referral systems that even Walgreen’s and CVS have had for years.

Fortunately, there are innovative platforms that create Amazon-level experiences – even at small speciality pharmacies. 

Most speciality pharmacies agree that disconnected ERP systems are driven by too much manual effort. It’s why the most successful specialty pharmacies have already outgrown siloed platforms and processes that slow growth, obfuscate insights, and rely on paperwork. With Amazon’s pharmacy around the corner, it’s vital that every speciality pharmacy adapt to new digital systems. 

Pharmacies can match the retail-grade experience of Amazon with the speed they require in an end-to-end digital fulfillment solution built on the power, scalability, and stability of Health Cloud. Here’s some of the key components you need to include in any patient-friendly solution. 

Key Components

Pharmacy Management

First and foremost, the success of any digital platform rests on the foundation of a strong back-end that handles every process from intake to shipment – including sorting, clarifications, label generation, fulfillment, and shipment. If you rely on disparate digital systems duct-taped together with weak integrations, your entire operation will suffer.

In terms of intake, diversity is key to an accessible customer experience. Systems must accommodate the preferences of varying demographics and age groups. Look for API, EPCS, phone, and fax options at a minimum. In the end, the ability to customize is key to the scalability of the platform as new technologies release.   

Additionally, ensure that the drug rule processing engine automates prescription approvals for controlled substances. This is vital if you plan to compete with Amazon on a national level for compliance with state-level and DEA laws, especially for schedule II drugs.

Prescription Fulfillment

Pretty much everyone will agree that Amazon excels at fulfillment, and they’re only getting better. Matching their speed and accuracy requires some hefty configuration in any system, but Health Cloud can make yours extraordinarily powerful. 

One of the best ways to avoid manual processes and data entry is through scannable barcodes. Barcodes allow pharmaceutical staff to quickly execute a variety of actions, including printing labels, requesting advisory leaflets, generating claims forms, and producing invoices. 

Once fulfilled, tracking is a vital component to ensure that patients know when to expect delivery. Providing and delivering on expectations is a core part of the Amazon experience, and specialty pharmacies will need to deliver on that in order to thrive.  

Patient Portal

Your patient portal is like a digital front-door. First impressions are critical, and it sets your patient’s expectations for whether or not your pharmacy is trustworthy, customer-focused, and credible. If the experience is well-built and accessible on mobile, you’ll build brand equity with a look-and-feel that leverages your logo, colors, and voice. And of course, all this needs to be considered under the auspices of HIPAA. 

You’ll also need some e-commerce functionality to allow members to log in, pay for prescriptions, request refills, and view their order history. This basic functionality can also integrate with the payment systems in your retail location, if you have one. 

According to a survey conducted by brand loyalty company Yotpo, 52% of consumers will join a loyalty program if it’s offered. Ideally, ensure that you have a pharmacy rewards system set up the moment your digital solution goes live. This component will drive recurring revenue and convince patients to use your services. Gamify the experience so that patients are rewarded with badges, tie promotions to certain products, and create brand loyalty. 

It’s also important to have an omni-channel communications strategy. This will enable you to proactively notify patients of refill status, shipping information, and more with configurable notifications that can be sent over email, text, or phone. With the right mix of messaging, you’ll be able to develop genuine relationships that earn loyalty for years to come. 

You also need to provide ways for patients to engage with you. At a bare minimum, provide secure messaging that allows patients to interact with the care ecosystem. More robust systems allow for telehealth options that leverage video chat to elevate the patient experience, a feature that Amazon is providing.

Physician Portal

Your digital experience can’t focus solely on patients. Amazon will undoubtedly provide an equally impressive experience for providers to refer patients into their ecosystem. This means that outdated referral methods like phone and fax are becoming more and more antiquated, and physicians will continue to adopt the most convenient digital referral methods – like the ones Amazon will offer.

Fortunately, there’s a solution. You can enable stakeholders across the healthcare ecosystem to collaborate, submit prescriptions, and ask questions via an authenticated portal, resulting in faster script turnaround and greater patient satisfaction. And because it’s all built on one platform, the data isn’t siloed, meaning that workflows can be automated from physician referral to patient shipment.

Final Take

Competition can be scary. We encourage you to view it as an opportunity to adapt, improve, and provide your patients with better experiences. And we’re here to help. Together, we can ensure that speciality pharmaceuticals remains a healthy industry that provides unique value to patients across the United States. 

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