Tag: alexa

Dr. Alexa, MD

By Emmie Futrell, Class of 2018

Picturing Amazon drones dropping pharmaceuticals from the sky, or Amazon’s Alexa
becoming Dr. Alexa, MD, may not be so far-fetched as it sounds. Amazon has reportedly
obtained approval for wholesale pharmacy licenses in at least 12 states. They include Nevada,
Arizona, North Dakota, Louisiana, Alabama, New Jersey, Michigan, Connecticut, Idaho, New
Hampshire, Oregon and Tennessee. An application is still pending in Maine.
The infrastructure required for Amazon to begin shipping pharmaceutical drugs to
consumers is still in its infancy—the recently obtained licenses only allow Amazon to sell
medical-surgical equipment, devices and products. These include tools like syringes, ultrasound
gel, and sutures, while Amazon’s license in North Dakota suggests that it may be able to
distribute medical equipment and gas. Complex regulations and specific pharmacy licenses that
vary state-to-state will provide additional hurdles for Amazon, if the end goal is to distribute
prescription drugs. For example, Amazon would need to be certified by the National Association
of Boards of Pharmacy as a “Verified Accredited Wholesale Distributor,” in order to distribute
pharmaceuticals.

However, these hurdles may not seem as high as one would expect. With Amazon’s
recent acquisition of Whole Foods, Amazon could implement and use Whole Foods pharmacies
as a platform to create a mail-order pharmacy, effectively controlling an Amazon-owned supply
chain. Amazon’s reach and boundary-pushing technology could make the company attractive to
name brand pharmaceutical manufacturers, searching for innovative ways to reach their
customers.
This move towards the outskirts of the pharmaceutical industry has not been lost on
traditional pharmacy benefits managers like Walgreens and CVS. In January of 2017, Walgreens
Boots Alliance and FedEx announced a several-year agreement to install FedEx pick-up and
drop-off services in Walgreens stores. The long-term goal of this agreement is to create
infrastructure for reliable deliveries of prescribed pharmaceuticals to Walgreens customers, to
ensure that elderly, disabled or other mobility-challenged patients are still able to access their
much-needed prescriptions. Currently, mail order pharmacy services only dispense about 1 in 10
prescriptions of the total four billion that are filled in the United States. Perhaps this recent
Amazon movement intends to increase that number.
There are many other benefits to the mail-order pharmacy framework, enough that
insurance providers like BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee have given their endorsement. Not
only are mail-order pharmaceuticals convenient, but they could also have a positive effect on
adherence. The BlueCross framework of delivering a 90-day supply ensures that there are no
gaps in prescription access that may be caused by attempts to plan a trip to a local pharmacy.
With the current climate seemingly accepting of the movement of prescriptions out of the
traditional brick-and-mortar pharmacies, the industry seems poised for Amazon’s tiptoe into this
market.