The Pros & Cons of an Online Pharmacy for Your Practice

Last week I hosted an inventory round-table where we talked about different issues, and there were a couple questions about online pharmacies and the benefit to them. Several (more like 5 years ago) I attempted to start an online pharmacy at the practice I was at, but it wasn’t popular and very few clients saw the benefit to it. Fast forward to now, and the online pharmacy that I started has been quite popular and clients place orders regularly. Of course, the pros and cons could shift or outweigh one another depending on your location and clientele.

Here is where I have seen the online pharmacy utilized:

  • Rural clients who do not want to drive in for every refill
  • Medication and food can be set up on auto-ship
  • Special orders- it is much easier to use the online pharmacy for special orders so you do not have to order, track, and/or ship in the hospital
  • Compounding medications

So let’s talk about the benefits of an online pharmacy:

Without a shadow of a doubt, the biggest benefit of an online pharmacy I see is that when a client purchases the medication the prescription goes to your hospital and is purchased through a reputable source! When a product is purchased through “other” sites (I won’t name names, but we know who) there most likely is no manufacturer guarantee on that product, and we don’t know where it was originally sourced. That’s pretty scary to me. We don’t know if a boatload of the medication was purchased and stored in some dudes basement for a year, or if that product is legitimate. There have been several news articles about the dangers of online pharmacies and you can read about them HERE, HERE, and HERE.

I think the manufacturer guarantee is really important to educate clients on. Sure, you can find medications cheaper from a different website, but a) you don’t know the source of the product, and b) you are unsure if it is legitimate! Here is a great resource from the FDA for clients to read over.

  • Another big benefit for your practice is that it may recapture business that would have gone to other stores or websites to purchase. You may not receive the profit margin as you would for an in-house prescription, but something is better than nothing!
  • Like I mentioned earlier, utilizing a veterinary online pharmacy limits the “hands-on” aspect of special orders. Rather than trying to keep track of them, call the owners, ship them if necessary, you can direct all special orders to your online pharmacy. It keeps things so simple and easy!
  • It can be helpful with the management of diets. Food can take up a large area of the hospital and can be a pain (and expensive!) to manage. I know a couple of clinics that only stock the small bags of the food and then direct their clients to purchase the full bags on the online pharmacy. Another nice option to help improve compliance is signing them up for auto ship.
  • Coupons are regularly sent to clients, and the discounts are paid by either the pharmacy or the manufacturer which gives the clients instant savings. This again is true for rebates. In-clinic rebates are often instantly available on the pharmacy so the client no longer has to submit and wait for a rebate back.
  • I regularly see orders that were placed very late at night, or very early in the morning so the ease of use and client convenience is such an added value for clients.

Now that we have looked at some of the benefits, let’s look at the drawbacks.

  • In addition to paying the manufacturers price, the online pharmacy will take a portion of the profit as their fee. This fee varies typically on the product, but it can be higher than what you are expecting. But, on the flipside, because that product is either being recaptured from other online pharmacies or you are no longer paying for the indirect costs (the cost associated with paying someone to order, store, pay the bill, etc.) it may be similar to your actual profit margin.
  • Another drawback may be that clients are no longer coming into your office for refills. So the relationship building piece may not be there, as well as the opportunity to tell them about preventative care dates, etc.

The benefits and drawbacks are going to be different for every hospital, and some may carry more weight than others, but I think exploring an online pharmacy is never a bad idea!

If you have more questions or want to hear more of my personal experiences please email me!

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