Electronic Prescriptions: Could Amazon Get a Taste of Its Own Medicine?

Amazon’s latest venture is looking likely to be into the blooming pharmacy industry. While this may seem to be a logical move considering the popularity of online pharmacies, ParcelHero’s Head of Consumer Research, David Jinks MILT suggests that the future may not be so bright for the eCommerce giant.

Amazon are reportedly in talks with industry experts and are on the verge of hiring a general manager who will run their new Pharmaceutical arm. With an estimated $300b spend on prescription drugs in the US alone, and a steady 2% growth each year in the UK, it is easy to see why this market is of interest to Amazon.

Prescription drug delivery

David warns the already prospering online prescription drugs companies that Amazon will take their invasion very seriously. “This is a market Amazon are serious about. Its model is already working overseas; in Japan, Amazon’s Prime Now service already includes a section for Pharmaceuticals, and even sells drugs to patients with approval from a pharmacist. But when it comes to the UK chemists market, Amazon might get a taste of its own medicine.”

“Amazon’s arrival in a busy marketplace could be a drug on the market” says David: “Though there are currently over 5,100 largely High Street chemist businesses in the UK; a move online is already taking place.” ChemistDirect are one of the competitors that Amazon will be facing should they choose to enter the online pharmacy ring, and it is clear to see how easy it is for a user to order their goods.

The NHS electronic subscription service has revolutionised the world of pharmaceuticals. The ease with which patients can have their orders delivered to their door or to their local Lloyds Pharmacy is something that big names such as Boots are already enthusiastically promoted. David makes it clear that this prospective market has already come a long way in recent years and Amazon’s possible efforts to revolutionise the industry is too late to make any real difference.

With new technology being so readily adopted by the existing Pharmaceutical companies, it is likely that Amazon will have an uphill battle to cement a market-leading position. This is confounded by the fact that the UK pharmacy market is unsurprisingly, one of the most heavily regulated in the world.

Amazon Pharmacy

Amazon are likely to have to jump through many hoops to be recognised as a legal distributor of pharmaceuticals in the UK. The following items are procedures that must be met by any online merchant selling prescription drugs:


In order to comply with UK law and ensure consumer trust, Amazon’s pharmacy and online consulting business would need to be registered in the UK. This would mean Amazon would need to register with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which is responsible for the Register of authorised online sellers of medicines in the UK.

All web pages selling pharmaceuticals would need to show the EU Common Logo – which links to a database of all UK registered online pharmacies.

The UK’s registration scheme for the online retail selling of a medicine is set out in the Human Medicines Regulations 2012. These provisions set out:

Who may sell a medicine via the internet.

  • The registration requirements for retailing a medicine to the public online.
  • A procedure for the competent authority to follow in order to list a person who may supply medicinal products to the public online.
  • Provision of information to the competent authority.
  • The conditions to be met by a person registered and entered on the list.
  • The power of the competent authority to suspend, vary or remove a person’s entry on the list.
  • Qualifying as a Pharmacist/dispensing chemist in the UK is not easy.UK Pharmacists must hold a Master of Pharmacy Degree and qualify as a Pharmacist. Pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and pharmacy premises in the United Kingdom are regulated by the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC).

Additionally, Amazon may seek to provide a UK based online Doctor Service. If so its Doctors would need to be NHS qualified GPs. While a medical team member might give an initial assessment and recommendation online, any medicine prescribed would need to be reviewed by a qualified GP working as part of Amazon’s UK Registered doctors team.

A UK-based online doctor service must be approved by the UK Care Quality Commission.  It is an offence to offer private medical services in the UK without the approval of the Care Quality Commission.

Additionally, Amazon would not be able to sell medicines authorised in the US but not in the UK. The medicine being offered online must be authorised in the Member State where the member of public who buys the medicine is based i.e. in the destination country. This would also present problems if Amazon were to develop its own-brand medicines; unless these were based on ‘vanilla’ version of an already authorised UK licenced medicine; they would have to be authorised for sale in the UK.

It is interesting to note that Amazon backed Drugstore.ccm in the 90’s. But it could find no cure for the fast-ailing business, which was soon sold off. Only time will tell if Amazon will pull of their coup of the pharmaceutical business.

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