Aching For Pharmacies To Embrace The Amazon Model

Pharmacists in Paris
Pharmacists in Paris
Xavier Pavie


PARIS — As pharmacists look to the future, the first thing they should bear in mind is that the health market is growing as it never has before. But it's also just as true that consumer habits are changing. People are better informed, more demanding and more prone to self-medication. All of those are things the sector needs to take into account.

But research has also shown that consumers, despite their tendency to seek answers on the Internet, need more advice than ever before. That's a function that local shops, including pharmacies, will continue to provide, especially in rural areas, where the number of doctors falls even as the population ages. At the same time, there are ways in which the pharmacy sector can and needs to innovate, as evidenced by the rise of digital health tools and connected objects.

We still need traditional pharmacies. But do we need as many? Could we do with just half of them? Perhaps. But wouldn't that affect the accessibility of health services? Perhaps not.

In France, reducing the number of gas stations from 40,000 in 1980 to about 10,000 today has not led to more dry tanks. That's because engine innovation continued to develop, the network of gas stations reorganized and costs dropped.

Technology, likewise, will invariably change the way we experience health care. It's already perfectly feasible to imagine a doctor sending a patient’s prescription directly to an Amazon-like service that would then deliver the medication — right to the person's doorstep — in under an hour. What’s more, the delivery person could very well be a pharmacist who would sit down for a few minutes with the patient to explain the instructions and doses.

That is the real challenger to the traditional pharmacy. Amazon is certainly one of the best performing logistics organizations at the moment. Pharmacists need to understand that their added value is the service and not the medication itself. Otherwise, they too would be mere distributors.

The pharmacy sector's best shot at evolving with the times, in other words, is to become the Amazon of local health services. By using its expertise while pairing its services to those of other health workers — from opticians and nurses to physiotherapists and medical laboratories — it will become the prerequisite, the health hub, similar to what Amazon has become for culture-related products.

Such a move would be sure to preempt the “connected health” market. Companies such as Apple, Nike or Jawbones have taken advantage of a market vacuum to provide these services — with no competence whatsoever. Users would no doubt be better served by a local health service that could provide targeted and more expert advice.

Pharmacies as we know them have credibility and unmatched experience. People trust them. And that's a huge advantage, one that rivals can't touch. In an ever growing health market, it’s imperative that pharmacists provoke rather than shy away from the competition. They need to give their creativity and entrepreneurial spirit free rein.

Let's encourage them, in other words, to strike and rebel! Not so that they can keep their little businesses unspoild and unaltered, but so that embrace the freedom to expand and prosper.

*Xavier Pavie is professor at the ESSEC Business School

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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