Buying medicines in India: Time to speed up the e-way?

November 6, 2020 2:58 PM

To assess the need and importance of these online platforms, let’s take a look at the impact they have made. Since the online pharmacies are technology-driven, they have ushered in a number of innovations and enhancement technologies into the picture.

This is highly beneficial for those on regular or chronic medication.

By Shirish Ghoge,

It took time to get going in India, but today, the Indian e-pharmacy landscape is looking highly promising. It is set to play a key role in the implementation of the National Digital Health Mission as well as the overall goal of improving healthcare in the country. It is in the best interests of the consumers that the e-pharmacy sector is supported with a clear regulatory path and made a key component of the future framework of the Indian healthcare ecosystem.

There are several consumer-centric reasons that warrant this emphasis on the integration and evolution of the e-pharmacy sector in India. To assess the need and importance of these online platforms, let’s take a look at the impact they have made. Since the online pharmacies are technology-driven, they have ushered in a number of innovations and enhancement technologies into the picture.

The average Indian person pays out of pocket for healthcare services and medication. Before the emergence of e-pharmacies, various existing trade practices mute the competition in the sector and do not allow any pharmacy to offer better price on medicines to the patients and as a result all medicines were sold on MRP. Such practices may not violate provisions of any act but do not allow markets to work efficiently in the interest of the consumers However, the transparency and customer-oriented processes adopted by e pharmacies has enabled competition and introduced the element of disruption that has today compelled most of the pharmacies to think out of the box to offer better services to their patients in order to retain. This is highly beneficial for those on regular or chronic medication.

In the wake of the prevailing pandemic, the utility of the e-pharmacy technology infrastructure in addition to neighborhood pharmacies has become even more highlighted. The government of India has already mentioned that the home delivery of medicines through e-commerce as an essential service, and in recent times 19 states have issued similar orders. E-pharmacies have been working 24X7 to deliver necessary medicines to the patients during the lockdown period as well. They also proved helpful in the prevention of the pandemic surge as the whole process of ordering medicines is digital and the consumers receive genuine medicines at their doorsteps in a contact-less manner. Even the Ministry of Communication, Department of Posts had issued a notification on the 7th April 2020 which directed the medicine retailers to deliver medicines to the patients’ doorstep to reduce the movement of people outside their homes. The directive as well as the customer needs resulted in the emergence of an offline/online hybrid retail system which efficiently met the demand for home delivery of medicines.

The National Digital Health Mission outlines the mandatory digital storage of the health and medicines related data of the general public at the service providers’ end. E -Pharmacies are going to be an important building block for digital health ecosystem.

When we look at the delivery logistics and practices, it is easy to notice how the e pharmacies have revolutionized this area as well. They championed home delivery of medicines anywhere in India. The leading players of the Indian e-pharmacy sectors are now delivering to over 22,000 pin codes across the country. Even if there is no proper chemist shop in a locality or village, the reach of e-pharmacies ensures that the customers get their medicines on time. Further, the e-pharmacies don’t just deliver the medicines, but they also focus on raising awareness about the health challenges, best practices, and in ensuring adherence of the medication schedule. There are platforms which offer notifications or reminder facilities to people when they are likely to run out of their medicine supplies. This proactive and caring approach makes them ideal for customers.

Also when we talk about the delivery logistics, it must be acknowledged that before the arrival of e pharmacies, there was lack of best practices for storage and transportation cold-store medicines specifically for retail pharmacies. Whatever little regulations were in place, were mostly related to the delivery of the medicines from the manufacturers to the distributor. There were almost no guidelines on how the chemists were supposed to deliver these medicines to the consumers.

E – Pharmacies have taken this need seriously, and are bringing in several innovations to restructure the delivery chain. There is constant monitoring of the distribution supply chain and innovations in this area are being focused on. The e pharmacies are also supporting technology innovation in retail processes such as paperless warehousing, error-free and fast delivery of the medicines.

One can go on and on about the benefits offered by the e pharmacies in India, but, the need of the hour is for the government to acknowledge it and take steps to safeguard the sector. The archaic guidelines and provisions of the rules related to medicine retail in the country need to be urgently upgraded to contemporary scenarios and e-pharmacies should be supported with clear regulatory path.

The time has come when the offline/online rivalry should give way to a hybrid platform with co-existence and growth of both methods of medicine retail. This will also boost investor confidence in the Indian e-pharmacies and will allow them to create greater technology innovations and adopt practices which address the consumers’ concerns effectively.

Let’s hope that the draft e pharmacies are notified and they work with the conventional pharmacies towards ensuring customer-centric medical retail processes in India!

(The author is Ex-senior Director Government Affairs of Abbott and Ex-senior Director of Public Policy Sanofi India. Views expressed are personal.)

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