As an Amazon Prime customer, I can now receive my painkillers just as electronics, clothing or books within an hour after ordering at my front door. At least if I live in Munich, since here Prime Now for medicines – Amazon´s new medication delivery service was launched last week.
Amazon´s tentative steps into the pharma market
This new Prime Now service is made possible by Michael Grintz, owner of the „Bienen-Apotheken“ – a pharmacy chain in Munich. Prime customers can order medication of his pharmacies via the site primenow. In doing so, the customer enters symptoms and disease history into a form. This data is checked by a pharmacist prior to releasing a delivery. The customers receive the medicines of either within one hour (extra charge 6.99 EUR) or in a two-hour time window from Monday to Saturday of the customer´s choice. Prime Now for drugs is not just launched in Germany. In Japan, too, this service is being tested.
Prescription and cold chain requiring drugs are not (yet) available via Prime Now. Cold chain logistics are currently still too complex for Amazon. As for now the drug´s integrity could not be adequately ensured during transportation, and patient health would be compromised. In addition, the visit to the doctor is unavoidable for issuing a prescription and the latter cannot be forwarded without effort to a medication mail-order. However, with the introduction of the e-prescription envisaged for 2019 in Germany, the last-named hurdle could fall. Moreover, the complexity of the cold chain certainly does not stand forever in Amazon´s way. Just as little as does the German pharmacy law. It prohibits Amazon to appear as a drug provider – which Amazon does not do. It is enough, when mail-order pharmacies integrate their online shops into Amazon. Likewise, the online retailer cleverly worked its way around legal shoals through its cooperation with the “Bienen-Apotheken”. Again, the company does not make an appearance as a provider but as deliverer and as a shop.
The future of Prime Now for medication
Even if the shipping of prescription drugs is publicly heatedly discussed, it is possible. So it could only be a matter of time until I can order insulin, multiple sclerosis drugs etc. via Prime Now. Then a completely different, much more urgent question arises: is it ethically justifiable that the limited number of Prime Now customers are better provided with medication than patients who are in the same need but have not subscribed to membership? For years, Amazon has been thinking about entering the pharma market. Now the company seems to take the gloves off. More than 20 years ago, Amazon started out as a small online bookstore and is now the world’s most famous online retailer with a worldwide sales of roughly 44 USD in the fourth quarter of 2016. Amazon has big plans.