Buying medicines online – how logistics can help build consumer confidence and support industry growth

David Pierpoint, Managing Director for UK Life Sciences & Healthcare at DHL Supply Chain shares what processes are needed from your logistics partner to mitigate the risk of falsified medicines

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Pharma IQ

Once considered an industry unlikely to succeed online, the global online pharmacy market is now growing in value, and is predicted to be worth $109 billion by 2025.

It’s hardly surprising that pharmaceutical e-commerce is on the rise. Across the world, consumers have switched in their millions to online purchasing for everything from clothes to groceries as it provides convenience and, very often, cost benefits. For consumers in remote areas, ordering products online can give access to goods that would be otherwise hard to come by, so why should drugs and other healthcare products be any different?

Despite this, the sector does face some significant barriers, in particular around regulation and consumer confidence.

Rightly so, pharmaceutical markets are tightly controlled across the world, and different jurisdictions have taken quite different approaches to the emergence of online providers. In the UK the government has broadly supported the growth of the sector, allowing online pharmaceutical businesses to access prescription information directly, saving considerable time for both patient and provider. As a result, companies like Pharmacy2U have been able to grow more than 250% in a year and a half, dispensing almost 250,000 items a month in 2018.

As demand grows, fast and efficient logistics will be even more important to ensure the market can support the growth. To achieve its full potential, the e-pharmacy sector will need to be supported by logistics processes that ensure extremely high levels of accuracy, availability and speed. Today’s online customers are often people taking medication long term, who know their requirements weeks or months in advance. If online suppliers are to support patients with acute or short-term requirements, next-day or even-same day deliveries may be a necessity.

Consumer confidence and issues around counterfeiting and falsification are another significant concern for the industry. World Health Organisation data found that 7-15% of all medicines circulated in developed countries are falsified. Similarly, 2016 research on behalf of the Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies, found that only 4% of websites selling prescription drugs were operating legitimately. As falsified medicines become more sophisticated, the risk of them reaching patients via the supply chain increases. Counterfeiting is damaging for both public health and the industry, so it’s vital that it’s tackled head-on.

Here, a logistics partner with robust processes and procedures in place to mitigate against falsified medicines from entering the supply chain can be incredibly beneficial. Providers like DHL Supply Chain adhere strictly to licence requirements with activities like inbound checks to identify falsified and counterfeit medicines, verification checks on the suppliers themselves to ensure that products are only sourced from manufacturers with the appropriate authorisations, and serialisation. Serialisation involves tracing each individual product via a unique serial number from the manufacturer right through to the patient and, whilst it has a number of cost and resource implications for pharmaceutical companies, it brings multiple benefits for supply chain integrity and, ultimately, patient safety.

The pharmaceutical e-commerce market has a number of significant obstacles to overcome before it can grow to its full potential, but it clearly holds huge benefits for both the manufacturer and the end user. Working with a 3PL allows suppliers of all sizes to respond to consumer demand effectively, ensuring they can flex to accommodate increases in demand and the need for fast turn-around. Similarly, logistics partners who have implemented serialisation alongside other rigorous anti-counterfeiting and falsification measures, can be a real asset when it comes to building consumer confidence.