Magazine article Drug Topics

New Frontier

Magazine article Drug Topics

New Frontier

Article excerpt


New business

opportunity for

retail pharmacy

You can buy almost everything on the World Wide Web if (WWW), the graphical section of the Internet, from a pizza to a brand-new car. And you can get information on virtually any drug from a variety of excellent Web sites offered by pharmacy schools and pharmaceutical companies. However, one thing you might have a hard time finding on the Web is a retail pharmacy.

While it appears that retail pharmacies, large and small, have been a bit slow to launch into cyberspace, the arrival of a few pioneers on the Web suggests this may be changing.

A search of the Internet reveals only about a dozen American retail pharmacy sites. Walgreens is one of the few major chains represented on the Web. While it offers a nice-looking Web page, the content is limited to corporate and job information. CVS, a chain of some 1,400 stores across the country, also has a nascent Web page. The site offers plenty of information on job opportunities and store sites but, as yet, very little in the way of prescription services or patient information.

The fact that many large chain pharmacies are not on the Web would seem to present opportunities for the smaller chains and independents to establish a presence on the new Internet marketing medium. Yet only a few of the smaller retail pharmacies have now arrived in the virtual world of the Web.

One of the first small chains to jump onto the Web is Medic Discount Drug, a Cleveland-based chain of 28 stores. The site offers information on the locations of the 28 outlets, along with selected health information for patients. Because the demographics suggest most people cruising the Web are male, the health information offered so far is limited to such topics as impotence and diabetes. Soon, though, it will include more information on heart disease and other conditions, according to Mitchell Zlotnick, marketing director of Medic.

"Although we have done no marketing, we get 3,000 visits a month to our Web page. I get plenty of e-mail from readers with an unbelievable array of questions. Patients write in with questions about their conditions. I refer them back to their physicians. I [also] get questions that are more emotionally based. These I refer to the appropriate support agencies. While we do not yet offer on-line prescription services, we do get a lot of inquiries about medications through the Web page. As a result, we'll be developing some resources in that area," said Zlotnick.

Why are so few pharmacies represented on the Web? There are many possible reasons, he noted. There is concern about the security of credit card transactions and concern about sharing personal information over the Internet. Overworked pharmacists may not be able to find the time to develop a Web page. Also, prescription margins are slim now. If there were more money in prescriptions, more retail pharmacists would have Web pages, Zlotnick said.

Nevertheless, the Internet does offer the smaller companies an opportunity, he emphasized: "As a small company we have to be on the cusp of technology. We are agile and flexible and can change faster than some of the larger firms. The Web is one more example of creating a niche in the marketplace. …

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