As we look back at 2019, we can see the growth of innovative technology being utilized in progressive pharmacy businesses. Driven largely by shifting consumer demand in response to increasing drug prices, the perceived complicated tiers of insurance providers, prior authorization processes, and a growing preference for e-commerce, more patients are choosing online pharmacies to fill their prescriptions.

Many are using the preferred sites of their pharmacy benefit managers, but the promise of lower cost medications at cash prices are drawing patients toward overseas online pharmacies in ever-greater numbers. These pharmacies are using technology to not only offer safe filling, but to generate greater engagement with their customer base.

Personal Drug Importation
Under current US policy, patients can order up to a 3-month supply of medications as long as they are not a controlled substance. There are no additional duties or customs fees applied, although it can add additional shipping time. This inconvenience is offset by the savings obtained from drugs sourced outside the United States. To capitalize on this paradigm, online pharmacies are adopting a patient-centered approach to technology that could serve the pharmacy industry well if adopted across the board.

Increased Patient Access to Online Ordering
Because they lack the need for a brick and mortar location, online pharmacies are able to carry a wider range of medications without accounting for retail space. This increases the number of therapeutic options available to patients and their physicians. The medication can then be ordered through a secure payment system via a web portal with prescriptions faxed or emailed as they are with traditional pharmacies. For patients already used to navigating e-commerce websites, such as Amazon, this process is intuitive and familiar.

Automated Patient Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Outreach
With the increased time needed to fill and then ship prescriptions, online pharmacies are aggressively adopting CRM automation that manages customer interactions through text, email, and social media. From prescription refill reminders to periodic wellness newsletters tailored to target audiences, this technology keeps the patient engaged with their wellness and their pharmacy, increasing compliance. It also offers ready talking points for the patient’s interaction with their physician and helps increase the patient’s confidence in their pharmacy of choice.

The Elimination of Information Silos
Pharmacists in these online pharmacies may lack the face-to-face patient interaction that comes with traditional pharmacy settings. To make up for this, state-of-the-art product information management systems (PIMs) are combining with electronic pharmacy records and CRM platforms to offer an omnichannel data repository as they manage and verify patients’ prescription fills.

This gives them as full of a picture as possible of the patient’s medical history, how it relates to their current prescription needs, and how those needs are able to be met by inventory in real time, providing a one-stop shop for the data they need to ensure patient safety. On the back end, this allows the use of complex analytics to aid in the monitoring of inventory and predictive ordering of stock. As these information channels feed into and are, in-turn, fed by each other, staff and patients alike are left with more information and engagement in the therapy.

The Mass Adoption of Filling Automation
Automated filling systems aren’t new, but in the quest for extreme efficiency, many online pharmacies are pushing this technology to its limit. By controlling labor costs through increased automation, they’re able to keep prices lower while filling prescriptions faster. Aside from the speed and economy of automated filling systems, they also aid inventory management. With the ability to feed information back to the PIM, this reduces out of stocks while also being able to notify the human pharmacy technicians when a hopper refill is anticipated.

Full Assimilation into the Internet of Things
To power smart systems, such as automated filling machines, inventory management, and the PIM, online pharmacies are turning to the internet of things to provide responsive connectivity and optimization. This includes not only machine and computer assets, but the human pharmacy staff itself.

Data are constantly being gathered from handheld devices that supply metrics to help understand how the human workforce is working with its machine counterparts to better fulfill patient needs. This is true both on the production floor where prescriptions are filled and in support areas, such as janitorial, receiving, and shipping departments. The result is a unified whole centered around the patient and based on the actions of the many.

Where These Tech Trends Are Headed
Although not all of these tech innovations will be headed for your neighborhood brick and mortar, they will certainly have an impact. As more PIMs push for patients to use their own online pharmacies and large chains demand increased efficiency from local retail outlets, you can expect to see technology take on a more important role within every pharmacy setting. The question is not whether it is coming to your location, but when.

About the Author
Aaron Smith is an LA-based content strategist and consultant in support of STEM firms and medical practices. He covers new industry developments and helps companies connect with clients. In his free time, Aaron enjoys swimming, swing dancing, and sci-fi novels.