The Effects of the Internet on Pharmaceutical Consumers and Providers
Francois M.H.M. Dupuits
The Internet has changed healthcare practice and has just begun to influence pharmaceutical consumers and providers. The Internet firstly affects the pharmaceutical consumer through the five main functions it offers to all consumers of care. These functions are: 1. to provide and distribute information; 2. to support informed decision making; 3. to promote health; 4. to provide a means for information exchange and support (the community concept) and; 5. to increase self care and manage the demand for health services, thus, lowering direct medical costs. Secondly, the Internet influences the pharmaceutical consumer by enhancing the move to consumer empowerment. Thirdly, it offers increased self-care capabilities to consumers through pharmaceutical information gathering and pharmaceutical products and services purchasing using Internet pharmacies. Finally, the Internet affects the pharmaceutical consumer by enhancing efficiency in the medical management of patients. It does this by providing the means for telemedicine and telepharmacy, by changing the healthcare professional-patient relationship, and by providing a tool for registering adverse drug events. Disease management benefits include: 1. access to care for remotely located consumers; 2. the possibility of peer consultation and of access to diagnostic and therapeutic Internet information for healthcare providers; and 3. continuity of care via virtual community networks, integrated health systems, interconnected, real-time, virtual healthcare teams, and virtual unified electronic health records. The Internet's effect of increasing knowledge of illicit and unregulated drugs, which may change drug use behavior and drug culture, though, makes the medical management of patients less efficient. The effects of the Internet on the pharmaceutical provider firstly relate to technological and managerial changes. The Internet, secondly, induces changes in the provision of pharmaceutical care by offering the means for telemedicine, telepharmacy, and e-commerce, for advertising, promotion, and communication with consumers, and for supporting drug safety and pharmacovigilance. The Internet's positive influence on pharmaceutical consumers and providers, however, mainly will depend on whether proper solutions can be found for the privacy/security and confidentiality problems existing in pharmaceutical information gathering and pharmaceutical products and services purchasing. Special focus should be placed on ensuring the privacy of consumer information and on the secure transmission of financial information. The best defenses will be adequate, national, international, and global laws and regulations which ensure privacy/security and confidentiality on a global level.
Electronic information services, Pharmaceutical industry, Pharmacoeconomics
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