Technology can be disruptive. In healthcare, the rise of electronic medical records (EMR) displayed on medical computers and medical tablets upended literal warehouses of paper files into the recycle bin. Now online retail mega-giant Amazon is also being called “disruptive” in the online pharmaceutical industry thanks to its Amazon Pharmacy subsidiary.

But is it really? Today we take a look at the service in this piece and what it offers to its customers (and what it doesn’t as well). Then we examine its impact on online medicine delivery from various viewpoints, hoping to provide enough information for you to make an informed decision on this ongoing topic.

What is Amazon Pharmacy?

Launched back on November 17, 2020, Amazon Pharmacy offers various pharmaceutical products and services to its US customers. Notable among these include:

  • Free, two-day home delivery of prescription medications. This is only for Amazon Prime subscribers. They have the option to sign up for the $5-a-month RxPass subscription, which covers generic versions of those meds. Prime members can get up to 80 percent off generic and 40 percent off brand-name medications.
  • Amazon’s PillPack, more formally known as PillPack by amazon pharmacy, is a delivery service to customers who have chronic health conditions such as heart disease or rheumatoid arthritis. It’s considered an excellent option for those who take three or more meds per day. You do not have to be a Prime member to sign up for it. 
  • People without medical insurance can use Amazon Pharmacy to obtain medications thanks to the subsidiary’s partnership with the Express Scripts unit, InsideRx.
  • Customers can compare Amazon’s medications against competitors. This includes pricing with and without health insurance, and savings given to Prime members. GoodRx, a well-known prescription coupon company, offers similar transparency on pricing of its goods. 
  • Amazon’s own product brand, called AmazonBasics, has recently expanded to offer over-the-counter non-prescription medicinal products ranging from the anti-inflammatory ibuprofen to hair regrowth treatments like Rogaine. 

Amazon Pharmacy Disruption: Was It a Bust?

It has been three years since Amazon Pharmacy went live. Here are two “no’s” and one “yes” and the reasons for their answers. 

Against major online pharmacy chains

Has it been disruptive to the online pharm sector against the likes of and Walgreens? What about less well-known players who got in earlier like GeniusRx, Honeybee Health, Mark Cuban Cost Plus Drug, Ro Pharmacy, and ScriptCo Pharmacy? 

Analysts, at the time of this writing, do not believe so. Michael Abrams, managing partner at Numerof and Associates, points out, a subscription-based prescription program for generic drugs is not new. Walmart has been offering such a service for years. Mark Cuban’s company has similar offerings and price points. 

Also following other online pharm companies is Amazon Pharmacy’s acceptance of health insurance, many of which are controlled by pharmacy benefit manager (PBM). These third-parties entities are primarily responsible for the processing and paying prescription drug claims. It is they who manage much of how prescriptions are actually processed and paid for. “Until they figure out the clinical piece of this [PBM],” said Scott Knoer, CEO of the American Pharmacists’ Association, “Amazon is just another mail order pharmacy without much volume.” 

Against smaller, traditional pharmacies 

The local independent pharmacies saw a steady decline in numbers and importance as they were replaced by the larger chain drug stores. The remaining ones, lacking the purchasing power of major chains, feared something similar when Amazon Pharmacy was announced. They know all too well of the “Amazon Effect” which closed many traditional brick-and-mortar stores like bookstore chains like Borders and supermarket chains. 

So far no similar disruptions have occurred. Much of the reason has to do with the customers themselves. Surveys have discovered they desire more convenient health care access in their community, not a quickly delivered cheaper drug product. Many trust their local pharmacists to provide more than simply filling prescriptions, with many consulting them for minor ailments, like bee stings to diaper rash.

“For many Americans, the local pharmacist is the only accessible health care provider,” explained B. Douglas Hoey, Chief Executive Officer of the National Community Pharmacists Association. “And it’s now very common for pharmacists to provide a full range of health care services beyond filling prescriptions.”

Against student pharmacy technicians 

One rarely sought-out opinion on Amazon Pharmacy were student pharmacists themselves. This was an odd omission, since their very livelihood was – literally – on the line as the sector itself went online. Seventeen students were surveyed about the service. Most felt there were job opportunities with the online company. When asked their overall thoughts, though, nearly all participants felt the subsidiary would negatively affect current and future pharmacies due to Amazon’s outreach and reputation. 

Closing Thoughts

Many analysts predicted Amazon Pharmacy would disrupt the online pharmacy industry with its well-known brand, rock-bottom pricing, and other customer-focused amenities. The predictions have not come to reality so far, with the online giant adopting many of the same tactics as already established online pharmacies like Walgreen. Customers’ rapport with local pharmacies, and wariness by up-and-coming student pharmacists, may contribute to this lack of disruption. 

Contact an expert at Cybernet if you’re interested in learning medical computers’ continued role in pharmacies whether online or in the local brick-and-mortar storefront.