Magazine article Drug Topics

Merck-Medco Separates Mail Service from On-Line Pharmacy

Magazine article Drug Topics

Merck-Medco Separates Mail Service from On-Line Pharmacy

Article excerpt

Merck-Medco Managed Care is fighting to distinguish its mail-order business from the services offered by "dot-com" pharmades, as Stephen Gold, vp./e-commerce, strategy, and delivery, calls the on-line pharmacies. "I think the online drugstores are more analogous to brick-and-mortar-pharmacies than they are to PBMs," he told Drug Topics during the National Managed Health Care Congress in Atlanta in late March. "The only place where our interests are potentially common is on the dispensing side. After that, we're in different areas."

Where the on-line pharmacies generally focus on "e-commerce," companies like Merck-Medco concentrate on "managing the pharmacy benefit, managing costs, treating patients properly, getting good outcomes, and getting good results," Gold said. "We can influence patient behavior, we can influence behavior of the doctor, and we're tasked and equipped to manage [pharmacoeconomic changes]." Still, he acknowledged that on-line pharmacies reflect the potential the Internet has to improve patient access to pharmacy, and vice versa. And Merck-Medco isn't the only PBM to take notice; Express Scripts announced it would launch YourPharmacy.com, its own on-line pharmacy, in the second quarter of this year

"All in all, we think the direction things are heading in is excellent, in terms of opportunity. But [we also have] a set of responsibilities. [We've used] those responsibilities to drive our strategy [for] Internet capability to date, and we're going to continue to build it into the future."

Rather than viewing the Internet simply as a vehicle for moving product, the company plans to expand its communication capabilities with specific "audiences," such as seniors or patients with specific disease states. Demographics point to the validity of that strategy; more than 22 million Americans reported using on-line health and medical content in 1998up from 12 million in 1997. More than half say they are interested in managing health insurance benefits on-line; 23% say they would buy prescriptions on-line.

Merck-Medco ran a pilot program to test its Web site for six months in 1998; the site was launched in October of 1998. Gold said "thousands" of Rxs are now filled through the site daily. But members of Merck-Medco plans are using the site for more than filling Rxs. Gold was predicting more than five million "hits" in March alone. …

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