e-Pharmacy: Its Impact on International Pharmacy Practice
Organised by the International eHealth Association with collaboration of the Commonwealth Pharmaceutical Association
The Barbican, London
18th Sep 2002
E-Pharmacy Development in Malaysia
John CP Chang
E-pharmacy, simply define as the delivery of pharmacy goods and services through electronic means, will bring both challenges and threats to the current practice mindset.
In Malaysia, where the pharmacist population is around 3,000 now is expected to double in six years' time, pharmacy practice is emerging as an important healthcare player in recent years. Where only one pharmacy school exists before 1995, today we have eight schools which are expected to produce around 600 pharmacists annually when full capacities are realised within the next few years.
The development of E-pharmacy practice in Malaysia will be driven by the Government's Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) Flagship Applications of which Telehealth project is one of them. The Telehealth enables the Government to implement a patient-oriented healthcare under its "Vision for Health" Programme where patients will be the centre of care. The Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) introduced in 1996 helps to bring the nation on every aspects of its socioeconomic development and make it into a developed society by year 2020.
To promote E-pharmacy practice especially in a developing nation like Malaysia with finite resources is a big challenge but it is an inevitable development that will eventually be adopted by nations of the world. Malaysia is essentially a developing nation struggling to find a place in a global economy. It is about 50,000 sq. miles in size with a population of close to 23.0 million and lies on a busy international trade route between the east and the west. It also has the world's tallest buildings - the Petronas Twin Tower.
With a stable politico-economic environment since its independence in 1957, it has over four decades transformed its commodity-based economy to one of manufacturing power house and is today world's 17th largest trading nation where exports constitute more than 70% of its total GDP.
Looking at the overall IT development worldwide, Telehealth and E-pharmacy evolvement is indeed a logical development especially when the latter can offer a wide range of products and services, provides healthcare and medication information, dispensing services, pharmacy consultancy and convenient interaction with customers
It offers convenience to customers to make virtual visits to pharmacies and make use of their services without having to leave homes, certainly a boon to the elderly or busy clients. Pharmacies can enhance added-value services through online chatting and in privacy. Online connection enables customers to reach out to pharmacists at their convenience almost anytime and not having to wait in a busy set up. Pharmacists too can respond to questions at their own time. Despite all these the E-pharmacy concept is seen by some as posing a serious threat to traditional pharmacy.
E-pharmacy practice cannot develop independently and has to ride along a national IT development continuum. It is dependent on multi-factorial development like having a strong Government Leadership in promoting every aspects of IT applications. In Malaysia, the main thrust of the MSC are the seven flagship applications - E-Government, Telehealth, Multi-Purpose Smart Card, Smart Schools, R&D Clusters, E-Business and Technopreneur. Their development sets the scene for high pace IT development in the country. All these applications are in various stages of development. Already many business activities and job opportunities have been created and in the process drive further IT development.
Telehealth is one of the application flagships planned to enhance the national healthcare delivery service which, unfortunately, in its initial planning was doctor-centred and has not included any role for other healthcare providers like pharmacists. The pilot Integrated Telehealth consists of four applications, Lifetime Health Plan, Mass Customised/Personalised Health Information and Education, Continuing Medical Education and Teleconsultation. To deliver the Telehealth vision, the Malaysian Government in partnership with the private sector has developed pilot applications to be implemented over a five-year period. The application would be tested at several sites both within and outside the MSC.
With such dynamic IT development, pharmacists are generally aware of the advantages of E-pharmacy but are held back by a doctor dispensing health care system since doctors are holding on to patients by dispensing medicines themselves. Large and small pharmacies, filling up prescriptions formed an insignificant portion of the average pharmacy's business. But despite such restraining factors, large chain pharmacists and smaller independents are setting up web sites to tap the advantages of E-pharmacy. The e-commerce component of E-pharmacy is expected to gain better initial foothold as large pharmaceutical distributors and pharmaceutical manufacturers have started on e-procurement facilities through their web sites. Nevertheless, pharmacy web sites have also included interactive facilities for consumers apart from providing basic health care information as well.
The development of E-pharmacy is definitely up-trend and could be better if there is higher computer ownership and internet penetration, presently at 12% and 9% respectively. The penetration is expected to increase on an annual compound rate of 20% to reach 25% from 9% in 2005. The e-commerce market now is around RM600 million and is expected to grow on a compound rate of 47% to reach RM3.9 billion. Despite the available of protective Cyber laws, consumers are still restrained by the security aspect of online transaction. Other negative factors include the limited availability of broad band access, high internet user costs and digital divide among urban/rural population. It is also hoped that the newer pharmacy graduates who are more familiar with IT will embrace the concept of Telepharmacy more aggressively than their seniors in the coming years.
Malaysian Pharmaceutical Society