November 2015

Having medication delivered to your home at a low cost

More and more customers are ordering their medication from a mail-order pharmacy. This should come as no surprise given the trend of ordering everything you need in life electronically. Walter Oberhänsli, CEO of the Zur Rose Group mail-order pharmacy, tells how medicinal products are ordered and the ways in which customers benefit.

Books, vacuum cleaners, watches and home cinemas: there is virtually no product which customers now cannot buy by mail order. So why not medication too? That is the question Walter Oberhänsli, the founder of the Zur Rose mail-order pharmacy, asked himself fifteen years ago. The lawyer is the current CEO of the Zur Rose Group, Europe's largest mail-order pharmacy. With sales totalling 100 million, 200,000 customers and 600,000 packages sent per year, Zur Rose has a "relevant market share" in Switzerland according to Oberhänsli.

It goes without saying that medicinal products are not dispatched in the same way as books are. After all, it is not just any old consumer item. To order prescription medication, for which the health insurer pays contributions from basic insurance, the doctor gives a prescription to the patient which the latter puts in an envelope and sends to the mail-order pharmacy. Or: the doctor sends an electronic prescription directly to the mail-order pharmacy. Two thirds of Zur Rose's total sales are today already generated via the electronic prescription. As a rule, the prescription medication is delivered postage-free in the mail one day after placing the order but within 48 hours at the latest.

So why should a patient buy their pills from a mail-order pharmacy and not from their local pharmacy? Firstly, the customer benefits from generous discounts: Zur Rose offers a reduction of up to 12 percent on prescription medication. In doing so, this pharmacy saved the insurance industry about 10.4 million francs in 2014, which also directly or indirectly benefited policyholders.

Secondly, a mail-order pharmacy is practical for patients who don't live near a pharmacy or have no time. "With a mail-order pharmacy, you don't risk having to go there twice because a particular medication isn't currently in stock," says Oberhänsli. Zur Rose has a huge warehouse, in which virtually all medicinal products are always in stock. Ordering via a mail-order pharmacy can be a blessing, especially for patients who always purchase the same medication over an extended period. Those who have to take several medications at the same time can with a doctor's prescription also ask Zur Rose to put tablets into individual bags which are marked with weekdays and times of day. "This makes it easier for customers to manage their medication," says Oberhänsli. Another point in favour of mail-order pharmacies is security: Zur Rose stores all of its patients' prescriptions electronically. This means its pharmacists always have an overview of all regular medication purchasers. If they discover possible interaction between a new medication and one that has already been prescribed, they point this out to the doctor or the patient. They also query any illegible handwritten prescriptions. According to Oberhänsli, discretion is another advantage. That is another reason why customers make such keen use of the telephone advisory service. "It is much more discrete than being advised in a traditional pharmacy where Mrs Smith is on your left and Mrs Jones is on your right." Since our population is aging rapidly and therefore more and more people are taking medication – and because digitisation is progressing in a parallel development, Oberhänsli is optimistic about the future: "I firmly believe that medicinal products will go the same way as books: today, already one in three are purchased online."

Text: Daniela Diener