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The Usability Blog
A Practical Guide to User Experience Insights

What makes a great customer experience at an online pharmacy?

Last year I opened an online pharmacy account on several sites. Most of us who have only 1-2 prescriptions wouldn’t think having an online pharmacy account would make life easier. After all, when we need a medication refilled, we can just pick up the bottle and call the number of the pharmacy and read off the prescription number to the automated system. The system tells me when to pick it up at my local store.  What could be easier?  Well, how about receiving a text or email letting me know a medication can be refilled and all I need to do is reply?  Or picking up the bottle and taking a photo with my smartphone? That seems much easier than reading the tiny numbers on a prescription bottle.

Another convenient feature is if I’m out of town and I need a refill because I forgot to bring a medication with me, I can request a refill in the app and change the pharmacy location where I want to pick it up. Then I’ll get a text or email telling me when it is ready.

Some of the online pharmacy accounts were easier to set up and use than the others. One pharmacy required very little information to connect my online account to my pharmacy account. Another, however, required much more information to connect the online and pharmacy accounts, including information that was optional when I initially set up the online retail account but required for the pharmacy account. In addition, the information on both accounts had to exactly match. In the end, I had to call customer support and eventually the local pharmacy before my online account and pharmacy account could be connected.

All but one of the pharmacies verified my identity using a 3rd party system similar to those used when you set up a new bank or credit card account. As long as I could answer 3 questions about where I’d previously lived, what make of car I’d financed and which mortgage company I had, the minor inconvenience established mutual trust.

So what makes a great customer experience with an online pharmacy?

  • Convenience: Getting a text or email that your prescription can be refilled and all you need to do is reply; the next text will let you know it is ready to pick up. Or scanning a prescription bottle to refill as a guest without even establishing an online account.
  • In-depth Information: Having quick access to prescription information (who prescribed it, how many refills are left, when the prescription expires), an image of the medication and dosage/usage instructions in an easy-to-read format.
  • Customizable: Setting up a reminder in a smartphone app to take daily medications or meds that must be taken for just a few days at multiple times.
  • Flexibility: Being able to change the pharmacy location to pick up a refill at a major chain pharmacy when you’re in another city.

What makes for a not-so-great customer experience with an online pharmacy account?

  • Lack of communication: Placing an order online for a refill and not seeing status updates, such as ‘Doctor Contacted’, ‘Refill in Process’, and ‘Ready for Pickup’.
  • Inaccurate communication: Placing an order online and being told several days later that the order was never placed, despite your email confirmation.
  • Inconvenience: Having to call customer support and the local pharmacy to set up an online account.
  • Poor access: not being able to easily locate the pharmacy features on a site or app. Not being able to access features using a smartphone app that are available on the full site, and not being able to find features that are hidden behind a poorly labeled link.

An online pharmacy account and app can be a convenient extension of a great customer experience at your closest pharmacy location.

-Judy Kistler-Robinson, Senior UX Specialist, Usability Sciences


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