Pharmacy: a real business in Chile
Pharmacy in Chile is a real business, very lucrative for the few families that own the pharmacy chains. Indeed, in Chile, few pharmacies work as independent stores. Most are part of a network with a common brand.
The three biggest players in this market are:
- Farmacias Ahumada
- Cruz Verde
Prices in these networks are really expensive. A few years ago, these 3 networks reached an agreement to raise prices (up to 40-50 the previous prices for certain products for diabetes). There even is a WikiPedia page on the topic if you speak Spanish.
It is supposed to over, but prices remain really high and quite consistent between chains.
Furthermore, in most countries, it is now normal for pharmacies to suggest generic drugs so that the client saves money. In Chile, the staff does get a bonus on sales. There is no incentive to promote generic drugs (some say it is even prohibited for staff to proactively offer generic drugs, but I have not been able to verify that).
That’s why you are never going to get the best deal if you don’t ask. Ask systematically for generic drugs (¿tiene genericos?). This is going to cost you 6 to 10 times less than what they want to sell you.
You are likely going to hear vague excuses such as:
- We don’t have the generic drug in inventory
- The doctor has written the brand-name drug, so I can’t give you another drug.
That’s just plain bullshit. Don’t hesitate to change pharmacy. Anyway, they are all located in the same places. When you find one, you can be sure, there is another less than 50m away.
Natural products and dietary supplements: pay attention to what you buy
For natural products and dietary supplements, the rule is the same: don’t buy in pharmacy. Indeed, each pharmacy chain usually owns or has an agreement with an ISAPRE (a private health insurance), which allows the client to use their “excedentes” (the difference between the 7% of compulsory social contribution and the real cost of their insurance) to buy any product in the pharmacy.
This practice (anti-competitive obviously) allow pharmacy brands to use predatory pricing on drugstore products such as supplements.
Example for spirulina, a green alga very rich in proteins:
- A bottle of 60 caps of 500mg spirulina is sold for 14900 pesos in a pharmacy. They sell an entry-level product, without any organic/quality certification
- In shops selling natural products, you can find a Chilean brand of spirulina with organic certification, which offers a bottle of 360 caps of 500mg for 13900 pesos. That’s 6 times more product, with a certified quality, at a lower price.
This gives you an idea of the margin level that pharmacies make on these types of products.
Be aware also of ferias (kinds of flea markets), very popular in Chile. Products sold here can be very artisanal. The manufacturer is not necessarily required to comply with the same level of quality than a normal shop. Ask if they have resolucion SEREMI de salud (the state agency that takes care of product quality control)
To buy quality natural products, the website www.NutriOptima.com is a good option. Based in Santiago, they offer more than 600 references of dietary supplements, medicinal herbs, essential oils. Delivery at home is possible in (almost) all Chile. Free from $20,000 in Santiago or the metropolitan region, or from $30,000 outside RM.
And if you find the same product at a cheaper price, they refund you twice the difference.
Farmacias populares: the solution to get drugs at the right price
Traditional pharmacy chains steal their clients to such a level that municipalities started to implement “farmacias populares” (pharmacy for people).
In these pharmacies, drugs are sold at what they really cost. These pharmacies don’t intend to make a profit, just to cover their operational costs. They are generally sponsored by the city or the public healthcare system. As a result, the same drug will be sold 15 to 20 times cheaper than in a pharmacy chain.
This was an initiative of the city of Recoleta, but more and more of these pharmacies are opening everywhere in Chile.
To know if the city where you live has one, you can check using Google.
[Name of your city] + farmacia comunitaria
[Name of your city] + farmacia popular
Be aware, these pharmacies require you to live in the city. You need to go at the city hall first with a proof of address to get a card/attestation allowing you to buy in these. For example in the city of Providencia, you need to get a Tarjeta Vecino (neighbor card)
Av. Recoleta 5640
Botica comunitaria Doctora Eloisa Díaz
Adress: Santo Domingo 916, Local 21.
Monday-Friday from 9am to 2pm
Av. Salvador 1029, Providencia
Monday-Thursday from 9am to 6pm
Friday from 9am to 5pm
La botica de Ñuñoa
Jorge Washington 107, Ñuñoa, Región Metropolitana, Chile
Monday-Thursday from 8:30am to 5:30pm
Friday from 8:30am to 4:30pm