Serving approximately 99 million people, Vietnam’s healthcare system has a huge impact on people’s lives. But even amidst modernization and influx of foreign investments, the sector remains underdeveloped and ill-prepared to attend to patients’ needs.
In this episode of Vietnam Innovators, Hao Tran spoke with Peter Nguyen, the CEO and co-founder of Thuocsi or Buymed, an online pharmaceutical distribution startup. With a mission to build an ecosystem that connects and simplifies the pharmaceutical supply chain, Buymed aims to help modernize the pharmaceutical industry and make it accessible to all. The startup has successfully raised nearly $9 million in a Series A funding round and welcomed new investors in making their mission possible.
The need to digitize
Peter was inspired to launch the startup when he saw how the loopholes in the system affected the Vietnamese. He came up with a core solution, which now reflects Buymed’s mission.
Elaborating further, Peter explained how pharmacies are not connected to other aspects of the healthcare system including insurance programs or the Vietnam social security system. Therefore, he sees the need to “digitize these healthcare practices, bring them online and most importantly get them connected to each other.” It is only through this way that all these units in the pharmaceutical industry can operate in a more consumer-oriented and personalized approach, providing care directly to patients.
The Buymed story
The disruption of the medical supply chain during the COVID-19 pandemic in Vietnam primarily affected traditional medicine wholesale markets, forcing pharmacies and even hospitals to rely on digital medical suppliers, including Buymed. It was around that time that Buymed had to call for more funding to expand and meet the increasing demand.
Starting off as a small platform that only worked with distributors, Buymed has grown to be a more reliable and reputable firm that can now collaborate directly with large manufacturers or wholesalers. With a number of SKUs exceeding 10,000, Buymed represents all brands and manufacturers, not excluding or favoring any particular distributor.
When reaching out to merchants from traditional wholesale markets for supply, Peter highlighted the importance of having great connections with the distributors and noted that “cash is king” to these wholesalers. However, the startup does not intend on replacing these conventional marketplaces but rather being complementary to these standard businesses on the digital front.
“Our approach to this is that we’re coming in and we’re offering an alternative to these wholesalers,” said Peter. “We’re saying that: ‘Look, there’s a much more modern way to operate, and that more modern way is through e-commerce, smart logistics, and smart fulfillment.’” With this perspective, Buymed is ready to assist and digitally transform, or “future-proof” businesses, making sure they remain relevant in the future marketplaces.
Taking a lot of factors into consideration, including government regulations that restrain drug distribution to only pharmacies or hospitals, or Vietnamese people’s tendency to go directly to drugstores, independent pharmacies are seen as a potential money-making business.
However, as profits made from the selling of medicines are highly insignificant, retailers have to rely on additional prescriptions of vitamins or supplements to make a living. Buymed, therefore, aims at changing the situation by helping retailers create profits through the very sales of medicines.
Commenting on the future of pharmacy commercialization, Peter acknowledges small, local neighborhood pharmacies as the center of change, with their ubiquitous, personal, and primary features representing the characteristics of the bigger pharmaceutical industry. Much as customers are gradually raising the standards of what they look for in the healthcare industry, larger, more organized pharmaceutical brands, like Pharmacity, only play a background role in the process. “Modernization will happen,” Peter emphasized.
However, the big question is whether or not modernization will be centered on big, highly established pharma brands. “Realistically, it doesn’t, as long as the mom-and-pop pharmacies look nice, trustworthy, and offer quality medicine.”