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How To Sell Over-the-Counter Medicine and Prescription Drugs Online

Selling medicine online can be a profitable and safe channel if you comply with all the requirements to this legally sensitive business.

ScienceSoft can help you see clearly all the nuances and create an online pharmacy solution covering the whole pharmaceutical supply chain.

Start Your Online Pharmacy with ScienceSoft
Online Pharmacy Guide - ScienceSoft
Online Pharmacy Guide - ScienceSoft

Online Pharmacy Market – a Positive Growth Trend

The pharmaceutical sector is not as mature as fashion or grocery in ecommerce. By comparison, the global pharmaceutical market is predicted to exceed $22 billion in online sales by the end of 2022, while the fashion ecommerce market was already worth $700 billion in 2021, and there are no signs of slowing down.

Indeed, due to strict legal regulations, pharmacies used to hold off on online transition. However, the global health crisis evoked by COVID-19 gave it a boost and prompted accelerated digitization. Like other consumer companies, pharmacies felt vulnerable due to decreased traditional footfall. Now, the prospects for offering online services seem imminent.

SWOT Analysis for Online Pharmacies

Alena Nikuliak, Healthcare IT Consultant at ScienceSoft, has researched the online pharmacy market:

“There is a bright future for online pharmaceutical businesses. As you see, market strengths and opportunities are prevailing.”

SWOT analysis for online pharmacies - ScienceSoft

Don’t Fall Behind a Growing E-pharmacy Market

An experienced provider of custom software development services, ScienceSoft will plan and implement a digital solution that supports all the functions to sell prescription drugs and over-the-counter pharmaceuticals online.

Start with Thorough Planning

This high-level launch plan is focused on steps common to any pharmaceutical company that sells online. In a way, it’s a blueprint you can adapt and elaborate to get an individual business plan.

  • Research all the mandatory conditions you should meet to apply for pharmacy accreditation, including staff, technologies, drug prescription processing, and medical data storage.
  • Register the business, get National Association of Boards of Pharmacy accreditation, get all the required licenses.
  • Plan and document all the functional requirements for a pharmacy app. At this stage, engage your technology partners to envisage all functions that users and your team will need to place and fulfill orders.

A tip from ScienceSoft: the functional portrait of pharmacies selling over-the-counter and prescription drugs will be very different. We can help you plan properly your business model before working out functional documentation.

  • Plan a supplier management system to manage and onboard pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors conveniently.
  • Think over delivery scenarios that you want to offer. Map order processing flow, staff and technologies involved in each scenario.

Think of Success Drivers and Competitive Advantages

Your online pharmacy business gets a competitive edge when it offers some extra comfort to customers, something that helps them save time and get additional services relevant to them at this particular moment. Here are some ideas from ScienceSoft's ecommerce consultants who work within the healthcare industry.

Business strategy level

  • The first challenge you will face as a newly launched business is to advertise it, let patients know there is a new service on the pharmacy landscape. Set up an AdTech tool that will collect audience data from second- and third-party sources (which is possible even if you don’t have customers so far) and programmatically choose the best advertising space with the largest traffic of your potential clients for ads.
  • Quick delivery of small-volume orders may question the cost-effectiveness of the business. You can get the delivery cost up, but rather than playing with delivery prices, we suggest addressing the challenge at the strategic level. You can consider extending your product portfolio and offering personal care and household cleaning supplies. To see it in action, check how Well.ca offers its customers both health and wellness products.
  • You can cover a full cycle of medical services: diagnose and write prescriptions, and pack and send the medication for delivery. You can enable this by partnering with licensed doctors and integrating a telehealth app. One of the companies already employing this model is TIN Rx.

E-pharmacy solution level

  • As people may doubt the correct spelling of a medicine, predictive search and autocorrect will help them find the required item anyway.
  • If you sell over-the-counter pills online, you can further advance search capabilities in your app by enabling the search by symptoms.
  • If you want to add upselling (which is always a good idea), use AI technology to make product recommendations more personalized.
  • Pharmaceuticals are recurrent goods, so you have an excellent opportunity to implement a loyalty program and have a more predictable revenue model built on repeat customers.

Plan a Digital Solution in Line with Your Business Model

Selling over-the-counter and prescription drugs online is not the same and requires solutions with different functional logic.

Prescription drugs

Solution: a subscription-based model

Scheduled delivery of prescribed medicine is a great helper for people with regular medical needs, receiving long-term treatment or managing chronic diseases.

Functional logic

Functional logic

A user journey to implement unfolds as follows: a user registers on the website and submits info like payment details and the needed medical records. As an online pharmacy, you always need an original prescription to prevent its reuse, so offer users either mail or hand it over in person. Alternatively, more conveniently for your customers, you can install e-prescribing software to receive and process e-prescriptions directly from doctors.

Technically, customers don’t place orders – your team processes the prescription and chooses a medicine brand and manufacturer, taking into account the users’ medical insurance and available stock. Then, a schedule for recurrent delivery is set.

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Over-the-counter drugs

Solution #1: standard ecommerce implementation model

Best for pharmacy marketplaces

When you sell over-the-counter medicine online, you don’t have to impose strict control over prescription validity.

Functional logic

Functional logic

Following a common ecommerce logic, you need to implement proper management of a product catalog, promotions, checkout, payment, and orders. Though operating in a less regulated environment than prescription medicine, don’t distance yourself from any responsibility for medicine use – excessive or incorrect medication may cause adverse effects and be health-threatening. What we recommend:

  • Give the fullest medicine description on the website: indications and precautions, ingredients, usage directions, and possible side effects.
  • Set up automated restrictions for the amount of medicine to order.

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Solution #2: a personalized user journey

Best for niche pharmacies

This solution is best for complementary medicine such as phytotherapy. While phytomedicines are generally sold without a prescription, their usage must be substantiated by medical reasons and regulated due to side effects.

Functional logic

Functional logic

Users register and submit medical data as the first step. During the next visit and after their records have been processed and approved, they access only the selection of medicines and the quantity prescribed for their ailment. Thus, medication misuse or overuse is reliably prevented.

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Prescription + over-the-counter drugs

Solution: two user journeys

If you are planning to combine two business models, you need to send users to two completely different user journeys.

Functional logic

Functional logic

Your solution must include:

  • A product catalog with items available for all users: over-the-counter medicine, wellness and beauty goods, household and pet supplies.
  • Integration with an e-prescribing solution to manage prescription medication.
  • A custom personal account where users can track and refill both over-the-counter and prescription orders.

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Elaborate Functional Specification for Your Pharmacy

ScienceSoft shows you a sample functional portrait of an online pharmacy. A final solution, however, will be different for each online medical business, driven by their ideas, requirements, and budget.

Product listing (for OTC drugs)

  • Product summary, recommended indications.
  • Medicine ingredients.
  • Detailed instructions on medicine use and warnings.
  • Medicine reviews.
  • Directory of health conditions to filter out the required medicines.
Learn more

User profile

  • Personal details (name, phone number, address, etc.).
  • Doctor information.
  • Medical insurance information.
  • Payment method (for cases when the medication is not covered by the insurance).
  • List of medication a customer takes with prescriptions.
Learn more

Prescription management

  • Accepting electronic prescriptions via an e-prescribing system.
  • Accepting paper prescriptions handed in person or mailed.
  • Validation of paper prescriptions with the clinic.
  • Generating a full medication list for a customer.
  • Proactive requests to doctors for medication renewal and automatic refills.
Learn more

Payment

  • Сustomer’s insurance plan and medication cost.
  • Billing schedule at the customer's choice and a possibility to set up a fixed payment date.
  • Flexible payment methods.
  • Notifications on account overdue.
  • Itemized order invoice available in a customer’s account and/or to an email.
Learn more

Delivery organization

  • Recurring monthly delivery.
  • Pausing and resuming medication delivery.
  • Automated text/email notifications with the next shipment date and a tracking link.
  • Tagging refrigerated medicines and sending them for temperature-safe packaging and expedited delivery.
  • Delivery to a chosen personal address or a partnering pharmacy.
Learn more

HIPAA compliance

  • User access controls implemented in internal systems where patient data is processed and stored.
  • Encryption of customers’ health and personal data in transit and at rest.
  • Authentication management.
Learn more

Automate Internal Pharmacy Processes

If you want to provide quality service to customers who expect fast and accurate medication delivery, follow the integration recommendations suggested by ScienceSoft.

Online Pharmacy Integrations - ScienceSoft

  • E-prescribing system. Simplifies handing over prescriptions to a pharmacy by creating direct contact between healthcare providers and pharmacies.
  • Health insurance software. Helps an online pharmacy pick out the best medication to be covered by the health insurance plan.
  • E-payment systems. Depending on the systems chosen, enable payments via credit cards, e-wallets, mobile wallets.
  • Supplier management system. Helps manage and track interactions with numerous pharmaceutical companies.
  • Order management system. Is used to allocate orders to shipment addresses and specify shipment conditions.
  • HIPAA-compliant cloud database. Ensures data security due to in-built security controls.

Estimate the Investment and Think of Possible Cutdowns

Given how diverse the service scope and the functionality of an online pharmacy can be, it’s hard to define the exact price range for its implementation. From ScienceSoft’s experience, $70-250K will give you a rough idea.

If your business plan is more ambitious than your current budget can afford, we encourage you not to give up on your ideas. In the development of custom digital solutions, it’s common to start with an MVP and progress to more advanced functionality in repeat agile development cycles.

Create an Online Pharmacy with ScienceSoft

ScienceSoft provides all-round support to businesses eager to sell medicine online.

Consulting

We have consultants with hands-on experience in healthcare who will:

  • Create and align with your requirements a complete functional specification.
  • Choose the best architectural approach and programming techs.
  • Plan frictionless digital user journeys.
  • Outline the capabilities of modern technologies and brainstorm competitive advantages that can be won.
  • List security controls needed for HIPAA compliance.
  • Provide you with time and cost estimations, and agree on project milestones.

Development

A project team of solution architects, software developers, and testing engineers, under the leadership of a project manager, will:

  • Create UX and UI for a user-facing app.
  • Unfold the development of a custom solution, regularly report on the project progress, and inform on the risks, if any.
  • Integrate the solution with third-party systems for supply chain automation.
  • Launch the solution after thorough testing of its performance and adherence to the specification.
  • Provide after-launch support (on average 1-3 months).

Digital Healthcare Solutions Provided by ScienceSoft

A solution to sell medical supplies and equipment

  • A user-friendly app to showcase and sell goods.
  • Automated back-office processes.
  • Convenient management of inventory sourced from multiple pharma manufacturers.
  • HIPAA compliance.
Read more

Telemedicine apps

  • Telemedicine apps for a number of healthcare fields, like primary care, nursing care and many more.
  • Apps enabling online appointment booking, video communication.
  • Integration with EHR.
  • HIPAA compliance.
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Patient portals

  • Patient personal and health data.
  • Online appointment and the history of previous visits.
  • Patient-doctor communication.
  • Online payment.
  • HIPAA compliance.
Read more
About ScienceSoft

About ScienceSoft

To launch your online pharmacy, ScienceSoft brings to the table solid experience in healthcare software development and digital transformation of conventional business models. ScienceSoft is in the top 3 of healthcare app developers in 2022 by TopDevelopers.