Digital Consultation and Medication at HomeBy Jan Hogewoning | Mon, 12/23/2019 - 10:00
Q: What differentiates GoFarma from other platforms, whether physical pharmacies or e-commerce?
AJ: We differentiate ourselves in different ways. First, because we are not limited to a physical location like a regular pharmacy, we are accessible to a much wider audience. Some pharmacies also do home delivery, but as we are 100 percent focused on home delivery, we have very efficient and cost-saving logistics in place. Also, we have access to a very wide inventory, where physical pharmacy locations may not have particular medications in stock. Second, we have found that other applications are much more expensive. Sometimes as much as 10 percent more than a regular pharmacy visit. We pride ourselves in providing accessible costs, always at the same price as pharmacies or sometimes even cheaper. This provides access to people of all socioeconomic backgrounds. We can offer a fair price because we control our entire operation. Everything is under the same umbrella.
Q: What alliances or partners are important to you?
AJ: We principally work with wholesalers and mostly the big companies, although in some cases we do work with medium to smaller businesses. Our offer to them is that we can target many different people in different locations. The wholesalers offer us discounts that allow us to offer good prices to our customers. We also have good alliances with several laboratories, but this collaboration remains limited.
GH: We are exploring collaborations with other digital health apps, but these alliances have not materialized yet. The ecosystem of health technology is only just picking up in Mexico. We need to generate an environment where patients have their consultation digitally and receive their medication at home. One digital platform we could work with is OMI, which organizes medical files, plans consults and generates digital prescriptions.
Q: What are your best-selling products and which areas have potential for growth?
AJ: Generic medications are our biggest sellers. They do not generate the most return because they are cheaper, but for many patient’s price is an important factor.
GH: We see potential in vitamins and supplements, as well as beauty products. Some pharmacies are already seeing good results in the latter area. It is something we are exploring.
Q: Pharmacies are increasingly becoming well-being centers, including nutritionists and psychologists. How do you view this change?
GH: Of course, these kinds of consults could have a beneficial impact. However, we believe that people will want to continue seeing particular doctors. Medical consultations at pharmacies are done by general doctors, not specialists. Another limiting factor is that if people choose to go to the pharmacy for their consultation and medication, they will still be limited to the products that are available there. If they order through us, they have a broader variety of options. Our platform allows us to scan the inventory among different suppliers and locations, and determine exactly when a product can be delivered. Lastly, there are many chronically sick people, or elderly, who cannot leave their homes. This gives us an opportunity, as we deliver the products to their home.
Q: Various health startups are migrating to data analytics and consulting. How do you view this practice?
GH: It is definitely an area we could explore. Our model makes it easy and attractive to collect data and define the tendencies of consumers. We know what people buy, who buys it, where they buy it and when they buy it. For instance, we know that in many cases it is the mother or daughter of a patient who buys the medication for their family member. Generally, these kinds of data are very interesting for laboratories, and the government too. Of course, consumer privacy protection is vital.
Q: What obstacles have you encountered operating your platform?
GH: We find that most of our clients still prefer to communicate through the phone. The use of the website is growing, but many elderly people are not very comfortable using a website. We are planning to launch an application that makes it easier to access our platform. Another much used application is Whatsapp.
AJ: Another issue we have encountered is the method of payment. Charging a customer through the website involves third-party commissions that can be double that of commissions charged at a regular card terminal. Though we are working on implementing a better online payment service, we have not found a solution yet that offers a cheaper option. The margins are small and you cannot afford to handle such commissions. At delivery, we offer both cash payment as well as card payment with a terminal. Here we face the issue that not many people actually have a banking card.
Q: Where does the regulation stand with respect to digital platforms like yours?
AJ: In the pharmacopeia of COFEPRIS, many digital platforms are still classified as additional services to conventional pharmacies. The reality is that services like ours are not additional, they are a primary service. Many people cannot go to pharmacies and depend on services like this. We believe regulation should be redefined to accommodate this reality. They should allow digital platforms to certify themselves according to certain criteria, so that not just any party can start selling medications out of their home.
GH: We essentially still position ourselves like any pharmacy. We have a physical location where we run the communications with customers. Because we are seen as a physical pharmacy, there are rules being applied to us that do not make much sense. For example, our staff needs to wear special uniforms, even though we do not attend customers at our location.
Q: What are your principal goals for the 2020-2022 period?
AJ: We want to expand our reach to other regions beyond the metropolitan area of Monterrey. In addition, we are exploring other product categories, such as vitamins and supplements, personal hygiene products, and even drinks and other grocery items. This is about creating a more complete offer for the client.
GH: Another area we are trying to improve is our marketing. Not having a store front location for customers makes it harder to build your name in a particular geographical area. Many of our customers have come to us through recommendations. There is still a very large part of the market that we can reach. One advantage in our marketing has been our good prices.
GoFarma is an online and multichannel platform that provides medications through home delivery. Its products include patented, as well as generic medications. The company is based in Monterrey.