Although the government seems committed to a Digital India vision, is it doing enough to nourish a digital-first ecosystem? According to a Business Standard report, e-pharmacies may be headed towards an aggressive regulatory watch that could rob them of their disruptive edge. The report says that a a consultative committee has recommended that e-pharmacies be allowed to sell only low-risk medicines like cough-syrups till such time they can prove that high-risk drugs can be sold safely online. This, when most of their business comes from prescription drugs.
Though online pharmacies are still at a nascent stage, they have invited scrutiny from authorities due to their growing popularity. Earlier this year, Maharashtra FDA raided the offices of Pharmeasy, an online pharma which relies on traditional stores for supply of medicines, while authorities had also sent warnings to Netmeds, another e-pharma company. The government, in targetting these, is committing the same fallacy as it did with e-commerce portals—of equating them with sellers, when they are just operating as a marketplace. Moreover, these have also been the target of traditional mom-and-pop chemists whose businesses they seem to have disrupted, given the discounts and ease of purchase. While the traditional stores contend that the online marketplaces don’t comply with prescription norms, the fact is that they don’t either. These companies still require prescriptions—another BS report had stated that half of the orders online get cancelled as customers cannot submit valid prescriptions—but one can easily purchase medicines from some local stores without a doctor’s note. This is not to say that the sector does not require any regulation. But the government would do better to issue a separate e-pharmacy license for these start-ups.