ePrescriptions and Digital IDs Fuel UK Online Pharmacy Services Growth

online pharmacy

Digital prescriptions have opened up the market for pharmacy services in the U.K.

In the days of paper prescriptions, a handful of high street pharmacists dominated the market, but with the advent of electronic prescriptions and their widespread adoption by the National Health Service (NHS), new online-only pharmacies have risen to the fore and are changing the way patients receive their medicine.

A pioneer in the space was Pharmacy2U, which was founded in 1999 and first piloted the electronic transfer of prescriptions between physicians and pharmacists.

In 2002, the online pharmacy Pharmacy2U was a key partner in the creation of the NHS Electronic Prescription Service (EPS), through which NHS patients could request prescriptions online for the first time and receive their medication by mail rather than picking it up in person.

In the years since, digital pharmacy startups have proliferated, expanding across the U.K. and into more niche services.

For example, online pharmacy PillTime was launched in 2016 as an automatic prescription dispensing service for people on multiple medications. Once patients have registered PillTime as their chosen pharmacy with the NHS, the company will sort their medicine into prepackaged pouches for each day according to their requirements.

Digital ID for Health Services

The market for ePharmacy services opened up significantly in 2018 thanks to the launch of the NHS login. With it, patients have a single set of login details they can use to prove their identity online, making it easier than ever to sign up for a digital pharmacy service, or to switch providers.

One of the most widely used forms of digital identification for accessing public services in the U.K., the NHS login is a core feature of the health service’s digital strategy. It is used to log in to the NHS app, from which patients can access their medical records, book appointments, and order repeat prescriptions alongside other functions. Since 2020, the NHS app has gained further traction as a means of verifying people’s COVID vaccination status.

Startups like Phlo, which recently raised $12 million to extend its services across the U.K., have leveraged the NHS login system to deliver a more frictionless patient experience. By using the NHS login to connect directly with prescription issuers, the company integrates with the NHS’ own system to automatically update every time a new prescription is added.

In addition to serving NHS patients, Phlo has also partnered with a number of MedTechs and private healthcare providers including Babylon, Leva Clinic, SkinDoc, Syrona Health and The Dermatology Partnership.

Using the “Phlo Connect” platform, these companies can plug into Phlo’s Application Programming Interface (API), empowering them to create, sign and send prescriptions digitally, while taking advantage of the startup’s distribution network.

Arguably Phlo’s biggest selling point is its same-day medicine delivery service in Birmingham and London. Boasting an average delivery time of 120 minutes or less, the company enables users in these two cities to book delivery slots and track their medicine on the mobile app. And with the recently raised new capital, the firm intends to launch same-day delivery in Manchester in the coming months too.

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