The advancements in the technology world have slowly made their way to the healthcare sector, but some aspects of medical care have been sluggish in adopting new methods of doing business. Most notably, pharmacy locations have held steadfast to the traditional way of serving patients, whether for one-time prescription fills or ongoing medication needs. In recent years, however, pharmacies have started shifting toward an online presence, giving patients easier access and quicker service than traditional brick-and-mortar locations. While the transformation of pharmacy service is promising, there are equally concerning issues surrounding the health and well-being of patients under a new technology-empowered model.
Online Pharmacy Opportunities
Conceptualising pharmacies as the Amazon of prescription drug care may seem like a leap for many. However, the reality is according to the English Pharmacy Board, patients are increasingly asking for new ways to get the prescriptions they need. This increase in demand for more convenient service and faster fulfillment, combined with no need to visit a physical location, has many technology firms and healthcare organisations alike looking to the future of online offerings. And with an estimated 17.3% of all retail shopping taking place online, it isn’t a far stretch to see more prescription providers operating on a wholly digital platform.
These opportunities in pharmaceutical care for the patient are promising, but there are also far-reaching implications for healthcare organisations and pharmacies, both large and small. Those that no longer have a need to operate a full-service, physical location can save on costs, or have a combined service model that makes it easier for patients to utilise what they need when they need it. Doctors can prescribe the appropriate medication to a patient through an online system, and then the patient can choose to pick it up or have it sent directly to them at home. Many pharmacies feel confident that while technology may be relied on more heavily in the upcoming years, a marriage between traditional service and digital offerings are the future of prescription management for patients across the board.
Safety Concerns and Challenges
Although the opportunities in digital medicine and online pharmacy services create a potential for a more efficient way to manage medications for some patients, challenges run rampant. According to a medical negligence claims specialist in the UK, implementing new strategies for delivering healthcare gives patients far more control over their well-being, greater access to the services they desire, and the potential for more proactive management of their health over time. However, innovations in prescription care should not be at the detriment of quality. Unfortunately, many digital pharmacies operating today have faced several obstacles in providing safe care for patients, leading to less positive outcomes than many initially hoped.
Part of the issue surrounding online pharmacy safety revolves around the difficulty of maintaining the same standards of care conventional providers are tasked to meet. The Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspects all registered health services in England, including online GP and prescription service providers. In the most recent report, it was found that nearly half of these online services were not providing a safe level of care to patients. While these numbers show an improvement over the previous year’s 86% of failed safety inspections for online providers, many remain concerned about the viability of patient care through digital platforms.
One of the most significant areas of worry for inspectors is the over-prescription of painkillers to patients and the high likelihood of opioid addiction. Some of the more recent inspection reports cite online pharmacies prescribing a higher volume of painkillers than necessary. Some also highlight a lack of information about patients’ medical needs and histories, as well as no actionable strategies for correcting issues found in previous inspections. Because online pharmacy services are separated from the broader medical environment, it is challenging for these services to be as highly regulated as other healthcare providers. Patient care has the potential to decline in these scenarios where safety is not a high priority.
A Digital Future
The technology world merging with the healthcare sector has a great deal of promise for the efficiency, speed, and cost-effectiveness of patient care. However, without coming face to face with the obstacles of online prescription services, patients, their loved ones, and their GPs stand to suffer from a lackluster healthcare plan. Before online pharmacies can go mainstream, like the retail environment for consumers, regulators and patient advocacy groups must come together to create viable methods of ensuring quality patient care for the long term.