The Viability of Online Pharmacies in COVID-19 Era in Korea

Document Type : Viewpoint


1 Division of Medical Products Safety, Ministry of Food and Drug Safety, Cheongju, South Korea

2 Division of Toxicology, College of Pharmacy, Sungkyunkwan University, Suwon, South Korea


The Viability of Online Pharmacies in COVID-19 Era in Korea


Main Subjects


South Korea, officially the Republic of Korea (henceforth referred to as “Korea”), ranks high in e-commerce (4th, 2018), and has competitive digital industry in information and communication technologies (ICT) (2nd, 2017).1,2 However, Korea is one of only two countries that have not allowed online pharmacy among the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries. Although ‘doctor-todoctor’ telemedicine was recognized by the revision of the Medical Service Act in 2003, telemedicine is still not widely implemented in Korea as a result of prohibition of ‘doctor-to-patient’ telemedicine... (Read more...)


  1. United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). UNCTAD Estimates of Global E-commerce 2018: UNCTAD Technical Notes on ICT for Development. Vol 15. UNCTAD; 2020.
  2. International Telecommunication Union (ITU). Measuring the Information Society Report 2017. Vol 1. ITU; 2017.
  3. World Trade Organization (WTO). WTO Reports on COVID-19 and World Trade: E-commerce, Trade and the COVID-19 Pandemic. WTO; 2020.
  4. Contreras CM, Metzger GA, Beane JD, Dedhia PH, Ejaz A, Pawlik TM. Telemedicine: patient-provider clinical engagement during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. J Gastrointest Surg. 2020;24(7):1692-1697. doi:10.1007/s11605-020-04623-5
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Guidance for Pharmacies. CDC; 2020.
  6. Liu S, Luo P, Tang M, et al. Providing pharmacy services during the coronavirus pandemic. Int J Clin Pharm. 2020;42(2):299-304. doi:10.1007/s11096-020-01017-0
  7. The Japan Times. Japan to Let Patients Get Services Online or By Phone During Pandemic. The Japan Times. April 10, 2020.
  8. Kwŏn S, Lee T, Kim C. Republic of Korea Health System Review. Vol 5. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2015.
  9. Park YD, Bang JS, Min YS, Sohn UD. Survey on pharmacist's awareness of e-commerce for non-prescription medicine. Korean J Clin Pharm. 2016;26(2):137-149. doi:10.0000/kjcp.2016.26.2.137
  10. Kang HK. Survey of E-commerce for Medicine, 91% of Respondents “Opposed” Korea Pharmaceutical Association News [Korean].  Accessed September 21, 2020. Published May 16, 2016.
  11. Oh HL, Kyoung SK, Jang SH, Seo NK, Moon SW. 2019 National Recognition Survey of Korean National Health Insurance System [Korean]. Korea National Health Insurance Service (NHIS); 2019.
  12. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Health at a Glance 2019: OCED Indicators. Paris: OECD; 2019. doi:10.1787/4dd50c09-en
  13. World Health Organization (WHO). Safety and Security on the Internet: Challenges and Advances in Member States. Vol 4. Geneva: WHO; 2011.
  14. International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP). Pharmacy at a Glance: 2015-2017. FIP; 2017.
  15. Matthew R. Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Global COVID-19 Threats Persist as Online Fraud and Theft Continue. National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP); 2020.
  16. Lee KS, Yee SM, Zaidi STR, et al. Combating sale of counterfeit and falsified medicines online: a losing battle. Front Pharmacol. 2017;8:268. doi:10.3389/fphar.2017.00268
  17. Mackey TK, Nayyar G. Digital danger: a review of the global public health, patient safety and cybersecurity threats posed by illicit online pharmacies. Br Med Bull. 2016;118(1):110-126. doi:10.1093/bmb/ldw016
  18. Kim KW, Kim OS. Super aging in South Korea unstoppable but mitigatable: a sub-national scale population projection for best policy planning. Spat Demogr. 2020;8(2):155-173. doi:10.1007/s40980-020-00061-8
  19. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Pharmaceutical Spending (Indicator). Paris: OECD; 2019. doi:10.1787/998febf6-en
  20. Lee JH. Untact Medical Services, from Phone Consultation to Video Consultation. Concerned about activation of medicines mail-order services. Dailypharm News. July 7, 2020. [Korean].  Accessed December 12, 2020.
  21. Jung S. Korean Government to Assist in Service Exports. BusinessKorea News; 2020.
  22. Kang CH, Kim SH. Recent Major Amendments to Three South Korean Data Privacy Laws and Their Implications. International Bar Association (IBA); 2020.
  23. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Doctors’ Consultation (Indicator). Paris: OECD; 2020. doi:10.1787/173dcf26-en
  24. Korea Pharmaceutical and Bio-Pharma Manufacturers Association (KPBMA). KPBMA Brief: KPBMA Policy Report. KPBMA; 2020. [Korean]. Vol 20.  Accessed December 12, 2020.
  25. Smith AC, Thomas E, Snoswell CL, et al. Telehealth for global emergencies: implications for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). J Telemed Telecare. 2020;26(5):309-313. doi:10.1177/1357633x20916567
  26. Fittler A, Vida RG, Káplár M, Botz L. Consumers turning to the internet pharmacy market: cross-sectional study on the frequency and attitudes of hungarian patients purchasing medications online. J Med Internet Res. 2018;20(8):e11115. doi:10.2196/11115
  27. Nakai K, Tanaka T. Introducing internet retailing of OTC drugs in Japan: revision of the Pharmaceutical Affairs Law. Ther Innov Regul Sci. 2015;49(2):284-288. doi:10.1177/2168479014555911
  28. Schaub MY. European Legal Aspects of E-commerce. Groningen: Europa Law Publishing; 2004.
Volume 11, Issue 9
September 2022
Pages 1977-1980
  • Receive Date: 06 October 2020
  • Revise Date: 15 December 2020
  • Accept Date: 19 December 2020
  • First Publish Date: 03 January 2021