The year of COVID-19 has changed a lot in our lives, including, among others, also the long-term mistrust of buying drugs online. Shopping online has become a necessity, especially during long periods of limited contacts and emergency measures. “Customers and our investments have changed and we have as well,” concludes PharmDr. Vladimir Finsterle, MBA., founder of the first and largest Czech online pharmacy.
After the first Covid wave, we mapped changes in the approach of Lékárna.cz customers and fans to their health. One-third of them was surprised at that time and said: We have always taken care of our health and we will just continue to do so, only with a greater emphasis on hand hygiene and face protection. On the other hand, another third wondered why they should change anything in their lives, because it was all just hysteria and they did not intend to succumb to it. And one-third of respondents agreed that prevention is more important to them now: they wash their hands and faces more often, avoid crowds, do not unnecessarily touch places that are touched by others outdoors or in public transport. They carry antibacterial gel on themselves and think more about their immunity. Thus they take added exercise and follow a healthier diet, taking appropriate dietary supplements. However, the end of Summer and the beginning of Autumn showed that these calm Spring decisions were later changed a lot by fear and tough emergency measures. The demand for medicines, and dietary supplements to support immunity has practically not decreased since mid-September.
The pharmaceutical tradesman must be happy about this…
A pharmaceutical tradesman, yes, but I’m a pharmacist by profession, so I see it even more in context. I am optimistic about the efforts to change the approach to ourselves, and to our health, which we increasingly and actively take care of. Unfortunately, spending money in pharmacies also has a dark face, when we buy what we really need, as well as what we just think we need, or have heard somewhere that it is necessary for good health. Or what’s on sale, a mega-pack.
And what would you recommend?
To consider your health every day. It is certainly reasonable to protect ourselves with masks, wash and disinfect our hands, not to encounter infection. But excessive consumption of pills of various kinds will not safeguard our health at the last minute. Because the health of those who take care of themselves in the long term by eating healthily and adequately, taking sufficient exercise, if possible not smoking and consuming alcohol wisely, does not even need those supplements and vitamins. And if already taking them, then select them reasonably, in the appropriate quantity and at the right time. That is why, among other things, I invest in professional consultancy at Lékárna.cz: so that people have access to qualified pharmacists’ advice as to what they really need, anytime, anywhere. And according to that, they choose the pathway to health. We have expanded the online professional Advisory Centre and put into operation a Chat Line, where experts are ready to give advice from Monday to Friday from 8 am to 10 pm. We are changing the standards of communication with customers and their care in general.
What do people long for in an online pharmacy?
For everything that can assist them on their pathway to health – we carefully select a range for them. So we stock not only over-the-counter drugs, dietary supplements and vitamins with minerals, but also electrical appliances, dermocosmetics and drugstore products with health benefits. Because, despite the threat of Covid, we are still living our normal lives and thinking of our children, our loved ones, so we want to eat and live healthily. We offer solutions and assistance for all health aspects. Healthy food has long been a first-class category in our e-shop – we have a really wide selection of nuts, seeds, sweetener substitutes, various dietary products, tea, beverages and spreads. We choose our products carefully, we often please our clients by advantageous discounts, we test different recipes and advice on ourselves. This year, we have expanded the category of dental hygiene, with eye care also receiving additional attention. We have added contact lenses to our range, offering only renowned brands and quality lenses, nothing repackaged in Asia.
By the way, this year we have seen the strong trend of customers to prefer local and quality products. The demand for Chinese goods is decreasing and people do not hesitate to call us to ask where specific goods come from. In the Covid year, of course, sales of masks were leading (we sold 3 000 times more than last year), as well as disinfectants and antibacterial hand gels (18 times more), 3 times as many supplements to support immunity and double the sales of vitamin D. The demand for these goods is naturally determined by the times and the emergency measures related to health protection. In brief, on Lékárna.cz we have shown an increase in sales of goods related to infection.
For those interested – our speciality called “koronINDEX” processes data every day and displays them in a clear graph (www.lekarna.cz/koronaindex/). The year-round curve has a really interesting course.
It is said that you have taught Czechs to buy medicines on the Internet: you founded Lékárna.cz at a time when many people were just familiarising themselves with the Internet and today it is the largest e-shop with a pharmaceutical range on Czech Internet. If COVID-19 has changed customers, what do you think the pharmaceutical industry needs to change?
This entire year has shown us how important contactless solutions are – including communication with doctors. And that won’t change. At Lékárna.cz, we have taken steps to ensure that patients have pharmacists at their fingertips on the Internet. Now there is a need to expand the availability of medicines that doctors prescribe to patients. Because prescription drugs can only be withdrawn in person at a pharmacy, even if there is an advanced online pharmacy with experience. Doctors quickly had to switch to telemedicine in this Covid year, and telepharmacy must also go hand in hand with this, as is common elsewhere in Europe. So a patient must have the option of communicating with a doctor electronically in certain or necessary situations for an e-prescription to be issued and sent to him. This is already operating quite successfully in the Czech Republic. But there must still be the development of e-dispensation (dispensing medicines in pharmacies, combined with the provision of the necessary information on the proper usage, dosage and storage of medicines, and their side effects), e-coaching and e-compliance (adherence to the prescribed treatment regimen). This would really be progress and beneficial to patients. And here Lékárna.cz wants and will get involved. If you - like we - are surprised that the development has stopped halfway and even this year’s events have not advanced it significantly, then you are right. However, I want to be optimistic and I believe that, when the current situation and occurrence of COVID-19 calms down, there will also be a discussion in Czech Parliament on the “Development in Medicine and Pharmaceutics”. Lékárna.cz wants to and will get involved in this. After all, it has more than 20 years of experience and, years ago, was the first to promote and implement the opportunity to buy medicines on the Internet.
PharmDr. Vladimír Finsterle, MBA (54), graduate of the Faculty of Pharmacy of Charles University in Hradec Králové. In 1999, he founded the Pears Health Cyber company and Lékárna.cz. He has devoted all his professional life to innovation in communication in healthcare and to using the possibilities of modern technologies. In the long run, he has fulfilled his vision of greater access to healthcare through modern technologies. He is one of the founders of the Czech Association of Online Pharmacy Operators in Prague and a member of the Board of Directors of the European Association of Online Pharmacies in Hamburg. He is also a member of MENSA ČR, the Czech Medical Society of Jan Evangelista Purkyně and the Czech Pharmacy Chamber. Since 2019, he has been a certified consultant in the field of drug counselling for the Czech Chamber of Pharmacists and he is a guest lecturer at the Faculty of Biomedicine of the Czech Technical University.
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