How formidable would Amazon be in pharmacy?

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Oops

I’m a big fan and customer of Amazon, having placed thousands of orders since 1998. I understand why retailers (and other businesses) quake in their boots at the thought of Amazon disrupting them. As a healthcare insider, I also understand why healthcare companies are especially nervous. Deep down, we understand that US healthcare is tremendously wasteful and inefficient and that Amazon could make the industry look bad and eat its lunch.

Still, I’m not convinced that Amazon is going to take over the pharmacy business, the latest topic of discussion. The Wall Street Journal (Amazon’s push into pharmacy is full of promise and pitfalls) has a piece and we’re also told that CVS’s play for Aetna is a direct result of the Amazon threat.

My own recent experience with Amazon left a bitter taste in my mouth and provided a glimpse of just how hard pharmacy could be. I don’t usually take painkillers, but the past three weeks have been an exception. Since getting hit by a car while crossing the street, I have been a pretty good customer for OTC pain meds. On a recent Sunday I noticed I was running out of ibuprofen, and rather than asking family members to do one more errand, I used Amazon to place a same-day order.

I pressed the button around 9 am, and was promised that my order would be at my doorstep by 9 pm. By around noon the item was “out for delivery” but it hadn’t arrived by 8:30 pm and I was starting to get a little worried. Nine o’clock came and went, and Amazon switched my status to “delayed.” Finally I had to ask my wife to go out to the pharmacy, which luckily for us is close by and open late. I would have had a difficult night without my refill.

Eventually Amazon canceled the order and said my address was undeliverable –a weird claim for a home that receives Amazon shipments nearly every day.

Most of the skepticism about Amazon’s entry into pharmacy focuses on new complexities like third-party payment, which are admittedly pretty serious. But my own experience shows that Amazon’s current infrastructure isn’t robust enough for the basics, so I definitely won’t be among the first to sign up for AmazonRx.

Of course Amazon isn’t the only one with shipment woes, and this experience was an exception to my usual good ones. Still, it gives me pause.


By healthcare business consultant David E. Williams, president of Health Business Group.

2 thoughts on “How formidable would Amazon be in pharmacy?

  1. Pingback: Links to start the week « Healthcare Economist

  2. Pingback: Health Wonk Review: Quote-of-the-day Edition « Healthcare Economist

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