Do online pharmacies threaten the future of the neighborhood drugstore?

Published 11:30 am Sunday, November 21, 2021

by John Grimaldi
WASHINGTON, DC, Nov 19 — There are still a few of us who remember having a bite to eat at a drugstore soda fountain owned and operated by a local pharmacist. A few of them are still around, the rest were acquired or put out of business by chain pharmacies such as Walgreens and CVS or by mega-stores such as Walmart. And now even they, despite their size, are being threatened by Internet-based virtual pharmacies.
A sort of a death knell for brick-and-mortar pharmacies sounded loud and clear when Amazon announced the establishment of the Amazon Pharmacy last year. According to the online technology news site, TechCrunch, “After launching its own line of over-the-counter drugs in 2019, this is arguably Amazon’s broadest push into the healthcare business to-date, one that could open very large, new revenue opportunities for the company, especially as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic pushes consumers both toward more remote care and using online channels for all their shopping needs.”
A study by GoodRx, best known for providing free drug coupons for discounts on medications, found that while brick-and-mortar pharmacies play an important role in healthcare, a major segment of the U.S. population already has less than adequate access to a drugstore.
The analysis found that: “Pharmacies and pharmacists play a critical role in dispensing prescription and over-the-counter medications, providing immunizations, and counseling patients on side effects, interactions, and medication regimens.  These essential services ensure patient safety and help patients take their medications as prescribed, ultimately improving the overall health of the community.  But, unfortunately, though there are more than 60,000 pharmacies across the U.S., they are dispersed unevenly. In over 40% of U.S counties, a majority of people do not have adequate access to a pharmacy.  In total, we estimate that over 41 million Americans live in pharmacy deserts.”
The online retail giant, Amazon, is just one of more than 400 Web based pharmacies that have popped up over the past several years. To be sure, they are not going to cause the total extinction of actual drug stores; but you can bet that die-hard independent neighborhood pharmacies will still be around in one form or another, albeit fewer in numbers.
Take the Owl Drug store in the town of Coleman, TX, population about 4,300. It opened its doors nearly a century ago and its soda fountain is still in operation, still serving their locally famous Owl Burger — complete with grilled onions, bacon and their own “secret sauce.” It looks and feels like an old fashion drug store, but it also operates its own online pharmacy service.
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