Online and Internet Pharmacy Startups:
Starting up and opening an Internet pharmacy is becoming a lucrative business model. Online pharmacies are now well established and accepted. However, an Internet pharmacy start up is not as easily created and successfully operated as many people think. Opening up an Internet pharmacy actually takes more planning than probably any other pharmacy startup does. The competition is enormous because there are virtually no geographical restrictions involved. Yet be aware that online pharmacies are being closely scrutinized and looked at by both national and state legislators, law enforcement agencies and the pharmacy profession itself.
Currently a search performed on Google Internet Pharmacy reveals that there are over 20,000,000 results for Internet Pharmacies existing that allow consumers to purchase prescription and OTC medications online. A Google search also revealed over 27 million “hits” in the results for a search for Online Pharmacy. The reason that consumers are utilizing these online pharmacies primarily revolves around pricing. According to Consumer Reports drugs purchased can be as much as 90% cheaper on the Internet than buying them at a local retail pharmacy location. The Consumer Reports article is even encouraging consumers to purchase medicines online by being titled “Save Money on Meds: 6 Tips for Finding the Best Prescription Drug Prices”.
However, online pharmacy operations are being closely watched because many of the online pharmacies are aligned with physicians who review patient information and generate prescriptions without ever actually seeing the patient in person. Many experts fear that allowing the purchasing of medications online poses serious threats to consumers.
According to the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP), in 2015 97% of the almost 11,00 online pharmacies reviewed by the board were operating in conflict with pharmacy laws and practice standards. Violations have included stolen personal and financial information, virus-laden spam e-mails and even online pharmacies selling pills that contain drywall or rat poison. Some of the issues surrounding Internet pharmacies were highlighted by a case in 2012 involving a couple of Canadian businessmen who sold counterfeit Avastin, a cancer drug developed by Roche Holding AG, to Americans patients. Some of these counterfeit medications even showed up in medical clinics. In 2014, FedEx received an indictment from a federal grand jury for drug trafficking charges after delivering drugs for nearly a decade from Internet pharmacies operating illegally. In March of 2015, there was a $2 million settlement paid by one Missouri pharmacist who distributed painkillers like Fioricet online to patients he had never seen for an in-person consultation. Checking Google again reveals that performing a search for “online pharmacy without scripts” renders a staggering 2,200,000 results! It is no wonder that Internet and online pharmacies are being monitored so closely.
In addition to the numerous tasks involved in a Pharmacy start up that must be planned and executed, starting an online Pharmacy business involves some additional ones to consider.
– Website Technology
Shopping sites on the Internet require a website that utilizes a shopping cart system. Which one is the best? What are the costs of both setting one up and maintaining the site?
– Online Marketing
The old cliche “build it and they will come” is not the reality of how the Internet works in regards to online marketing. As noted above from the Google search results, the competition is fierce. What are the best routes to go regarding Internet marketing? Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Pay-per-Clicks (Google AdWords), Email lists, affiliate marketing, banner advertisements? All of the above? What are the costs associated and who does the work?
Online pharmacies are able to obtain an .pharmacy for their websites as a Top-Level Domain (TLD). the NABP became the registry through which an online operation can obtain this domain type which allows consumers to know that they are visiting a legitimate online pharmacy. With a .pharmacy domain name, the “seal of quality” is built into the website address. Additionally the website www.safe.pharmacy is a “website verification program” that has been made available for consumers to visit and check if the online pharmacy is safe and legitimate. Previously there was also a program known as The Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (VIPPS) program that had been accrediting pharmacies that dispense prescription drugs via the internet since 1999. However, the NABP will no longer accept new VIPPS applications, renewals, or reaccreditation applications.
As with any pharmacy operation, there are numerous factors to consider in the planning, execution and long term success of opening and maintaining a new Internet pharmacy business. The planning and execution are really the keys to a smooth online pharmacy operation being opened and becoming a successful business. Just a few of the considerations and tasks that are required for a successful online pharmacy start-up include:
– The creation and review of a business plan
– Guidance regarding type of corporation to form – Limited Liability or LLC, C-Corporation, S-Corporation, Sole Proprietorship or a General partnership
– Startup cost estimates
– Obtaining financing
– Work flow design
– Assistance and guidance with the DEA & State Board of Pharmacy application process
– Creating Policy and Procedure manuals and Continuance Quality Improvement (CQI) manual
– Purchasing the equipment and supplies
– Obtaining legal support
– Staffing (not only the pharmacist, but technicians and ancillary support staff personnel)
As always, please contact us here at HCC if you have questions regarding establishing or running an Internet Pharmacy online. With over 27 years in the Pharmacy Consulting business, HCC can assist with expert advice in any area of your pharmacy business or practice. We urge you to contact us today to see how our Pharmacy Consulting services can help. With a full-time staff of in-house Pharmacy Consultant specialists, HCC can answer any questions that you may have in all areas of your business. Contact us online or call us at 800-642-1652.