Are Your Drugs Packaged for the Web?


Are Your Drugs Packaged for the Web?

Internet users purchase much more than consumer goods on-line these days. According to Forrester Research, healthcare e-commerce reached $213 million in 1998 and should grow to $6.3 billion in 2003. Dot-com pharmacies are quickly growing in numbers—not only are major drug stores offering on-line prescription filling, but start-ups like and are joining in. Patrons of these sites can avoid trips to and the long lines at the drugstore and may even get to interact with a pharmacist.

Consumers shouldn't be the only ones rejoicing over the pharmacy sites' proliferation. Drug makers should also celebrate because the sites may increase sales. However, to ensure the sites' long-term success, firms should make sure their packaging is ready for the Web.

About 10% of patients who have prescriptions filled at a pharmacy never pick them up, and another 10% of patients never even have them filled, explains Pat Cropper, national director of specialty services for Bergen Brunswig Corp. (Orange, CA), a supply management firm providing pharmaceuticals and medical products to pharmacies and hospitals. Drug makers are therefore losing one-fifth of their potential sales. Internet pharmacy sales could enable these manufacturers to capture those unfilled or unclaimed prescription sales.

Supporting such sites means more than just sending bulk drugs to the on-line prescription-filling locations. Drug makers should work directly with the prescription-filling facilities to determine what packaging style they prefer. Most likely it will be unit-of-use packaging. "Dot-com pharmacies, which in many ways operate similarly to mail-out pharmacies, want bar-coded products with a 30-day supply," Cropper says. "It is much faster to have a bottle or blister that is ready to go. All they'd need to do is apply the prescription label." For some start-up sites, saving money on repackaging could keep these e-businesses in the black.

Manufacturers should also use packaging to quell fears about the authenticity of prescription drugs sold over the Internet. For instance, in the December 7 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, FDA Commissioner Jane Henney cautions readers to beware of some sites because they may offer counterfeit drugs. And the September issue of Authentication News reports that drug manufacturers are increasingly finding illegal goods posted at Internet sites. To avert such a negative image, drug makers should provide prepackaged unit-of-use drugs to on-line prescription-fill locations, complete with bar codes, tamper-evident features, and authentication aids like holographic logos or other distinguishing labeling. With the real drug in hand, consumers will be more likely to refill future orders on-line.

Cropper adds that third-party payers will begin to support such sites because "they welcome any efforts to get the pills to the patients. If patients don't take their prescriptions, their health conditions escalate, costing more in the long run." Such support is already appearing. Last October, Arrow Corp. acquired Kaiser Permanente's 17 northeast in-house pharmacies and its pharmacy-by-mail business. Ed Mercadante, president of Arrow, views "the prescription continuum of care for the next millennium as a connection between doctors, pharmacies in or adjacent to their offices, and the Internet." Patients can "visit their doctor, fill their prescriptions, then log onto the Internet for ongoing refills," he adds. The union will lead to the expansion of Arrow's site

Not everyone predicts success for on-line pharmacies. Corporate Research Group says that Internet pharmacies are expected to grab less than 2% of prescription and OTC drug and health and beauty aid sales by 2001. The group predicts that after a fierce battle, only a few such sites will survive. The firm could be right, but with Cyber Dialogue predicting that 33.5 million adults will be searching the Web for health information in 2000 alone, odds are that some of these surfers will make a purchase or two. Packagers better be prepared.

Daphne Allen, Editor


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