Estonia's State Agency of Medicine has banned the consultation of pharmacy customers via video link, which has led Terve Pere Apteek OÜ, operating under the Apotheka brand, to close down small rural pharmacies in Kavastu and Luunja in June. The company plans to contest the agency's decision in court.
"The State Agency of Medicines threatened to enforce a penalty payment of up to €6,000 per day if we don't stop offering pharmacy services via video link in Luunja and Kavastu," Terve Pere Apteek board member Kadri Ulla, said in a press release.
According to Ulla, the agency also threatened to suspend the company's activity license, which would mean that 85 Apotheka pharmacies across the country would have to be closed down. She added that the company must therefore take the dispute to court.
Terve Pere Apteek developed a solution in which customers can consult with pharmacists via video link, Ulla explained. All medications issued were checked by a professional and the pharmacist was assisted by a customer service representative who had completed special training.
"According to the State Agency of Medicines, it is not acceptable that a customer service representative takes a medication from the shelf and displays it to the pharmacist via webcam, as customer service representatives are not allowed to touch boxes of medication," said the board member.
According to Ulla, it is nearly impossible to find pharmacists willing to work in rural areas, especially in summer, and so it is very difficult to keep pharmacies open in rural areas. This new solution, she noted, helps the company keep these pharmacies operational.
Agency: Pharmacy must be physically present
According to the State Agency of Medicines, the law in Estonia states that a pharmacist must be physically present at the pharmacy in order to render pharmaceutical services, thus it is incorrect to claim that the agency has suddenly decided to ban the use of video links in pharmacies.
"The State Agency of medicines has not banned video consultations, but is obliging business owners to guarantee the presence of a pharmacist during the pharmacy's business hours," a representative of the agency said.
"The Medicinal Products Act does not allow for a situation in which there is only someone without specialized education — a customer service representative — [working] at an open pharmacy," they explained. "The law includes this requirement to guarantee patient safety and security. Pharmacy services include many aspects, and consultations are just one part of these services."
The agency representative noted that business owners' initiative to offer video consultations as an additional service in the pharmacy is a positive of thing, however, provided that the security of delicate personal data is ensured.
More than 170 pharmacies across Estonia operate under the Apotheka brand. The trademark is owned by Magnum AS, the owner of which, Up Invest, also owns the news agency BNS.
Editor: Aili Vahtla