For Epharmacies, COVID-19 Presents Unique Chance for Expansion

The efficiency of epharmacies in delivering low-cost pharmaceuticals, combined with the increasing penetration of e-commerce, is driving the segment's growth amid the pandemic. Its advantages over physical pharmacies are abundant.

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With the arrival of COVID-19 and social distancing rules, the use of technology has become a fact of life, generating rapid changes in all sectors. The health sector is not exempt from these trends.

In fact, we could say that this is one of the sectors where technology is making fastest inroads, in many ways. Above all, in the dispensing of medicines and health care products (what we can define as "digital pharmacy" or “epharmacy”), and the dispensing of remote medical services ("telemedicine").

In this post, we are going to discuss the latest developments in epharmacy, a booming segment, while we will discuss telemedicine in a future post.

In the last decade, the proportion of e-commerce sales, as part of total retail sales in the world, has grown year after year, at the expense of physical stores. E-commerce in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) has also experienced rapid growth, among the highest in the world, generating a whole business ecosystem and new opportunities, including the epharmacy sector.

A key point is that the pandemic is redefining consumer habits in LAC, shifting many first-time shoppers online. To reduce the risk of contagion, a large segment of the population, mainly in urban areas, who preferred physical purchase has become frequent electronic shoppers.

The efficiency of epharmacies in delivering low-cost pharmaceuticals, combined with the increasing penetration of e-commerce, is driving growth in the segment. A recent Fortune Business Insights study predicts that the size of the global digital pharmacy market will almost triple by 2026.

 

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The advantages of epharmacies over their physical counterparts are abundant. For example, there is a significant percentage of patients around the world who prefer the delivery of pharmaceutical products at home, due to the lack of availability of certain drugs in physical pharmacies. Epharmacies also reduce the dependence of the chronically ill, patients and the elderly on other people for the purchase of medicines and health care products.

The increasing development of e-commerce has made it easier for epharmacies to capture a broad customer base globally, in both developed and developing countries, and the trend has only been accelerated by the pandemic. Take "millennials", a generation that already relies heavily on the Internet to purchase products related to health care, including drugs.

The future of this sector is very promising, if we take into account that new technologies based on artificial intelligence will also contribute to its development, guaranteeing greater customer satisfaction. These technologies will allow epharmacies to anticipate the tastes, preferences and even pathologies of its users.

In general, e-commerce platforms, initially an additional option to acquire more specialized products or at a better price, are becoming the first option for the purchase of groceries and basic necessities in times of social distancing. This is an irresistible trend that will create disruptions and new opportunities.

A quick note on telemedicine: by sharing many of the economic model and technology features of epharmacy, it has many of the same benefits. But there also are some additional ones, including the reduction of the workload of health professionals in this era of long overtime shifts in so many hospitals, contributing to faster and more efficient diagnoses in less time. We will talk about that in our next post.

Authors

Cristina Simón

Cristina leads the Social Infrastructure Team at IDB Invest, which she joined in 2018. She is responsible for developing strategies and business pl

Javier Barsantini

Javier is a Lead Investment Officer, Equity and Mezzanine Finance Investments Team at IDB Invest, which he joined in 2002. He is responsible for devel

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