E-Pharmacies: Key to consumer-centric access to quality medicines in India
Updated: Feb 04, 2021 4:11 PM
The conventional pharmaceuticals supply chains are not optimized and have several gaps which cause wastage, delays and risks of not of standard quality medicines entering the markets.
Access to genuine medicines has been a major issue in India, especially in the non-Tier I cities.
By Dharmil Sheth,
The Government of India has been working ambitiously towards ensuring universal healthcare and access to affordable and quality medicine for all Indians. However, when it comes to the issue of access to quality medicines, the problem is two-pronged.
Supply chain issues: The conventional pharmaceuticals supply chains are not optimized and have several gaps which cause wastage, delays and risks of not of standard quality medicines entering the markets.
Lack of Affordability: The inefficiency and unstructured nature of pharmaceutical retail sector leads to greater costs for the consumers.
These are areas that e-Pharmacies have focused on and in the last five years, they have been steadily working to make supply chain more transparent, effecient and bring traceability to ensure convenient access to essential medicines for the consumers. There are more than 50 e-Pharmacy platforms today that are deploying latest technologies, resources, capital inputs and innovation to ensure easy doorstep access to affordable and quality medicines for all Indians. There are several key areas that in which the e-Pharmacies have been able to improve the consumer experience of purchasing medicine and help them manage their disease better and improve outcomes. On the occasion of the recent National Consumer Day, let us look at how e-Pharmacies are improving various aspects.
Access: Access to genuine medicines has been a major issue in India, especially in the non-Tier I cities. To address this problem, e-Pharmacies have built an offline/online integrated model which leverages an extensive network of licensed physical pharmacies with registered pharmacists. This network gives the e pharmacies a highly efficient last mile delivery supply chain which successfully enabled them to deliver medicines and healthcare services to patients across 22000 pin codes in India.
Availability: Another highly impactful benefit of e-Pharmacies is the much higher fill rate (95% plus, Source: RedSeer IP) of medicine orders received by them. Each e pharmacy platform has access to numerous licensed pharmacies. They are thus able to locate the medicines and deliver them to the patients with greater success. The e-Pharmacies follow a strict no-substitution mechanism, and deliver only the medicines mentioned prescribed and no other alternatives.
Authenticity: The e-Pharmacies have adopted a robust technology driven order processing and delivery tracking system that effectively eliminates the chances of spurious medicines entering the system. There are technologies such as blockchain etc., deployed at the backend which help in documenting complete details of each order processed such as the name of the medicine, manufacturer, medicine’s batch number, details of the customer and the prescription. Thus, all medicines can be traced back to the channel/supplier and manufacturer easily.
Convenience: In terms of convenience, the e-Pharmacies have truly transformed the consumer experience. Today, people can safely order the essential medicines from the comfort of their homes and get doorstep delivery of quality medicines with additional options like rescheduling, refill reminders and online in-app customer support. In the wake of the pandemic, the elderly, chronic disease patients and other people with immunity issues are advised to remain home and the e-Pharmacies help them avoid visiting the medical stores located in markets by enabling digital order placement through smartphones.
Affordability: The e-Pharmacies operate on a larger scale by networking various physical pharmacies across different geographies and they serve a much larger customer base. Thus, they effectively make the entire supply chain become more efficient and economical. They reduce the consumption of working capital and wastage which leads to higher margins for the pharmacies and they are in turn able to make medicines more affordable for the patients.
Patient Safety: The e-Pharmacies have been following stringent policies and voluntary practices to protect the patients and ensure their safety. They don’t facilitate the sale of any sensitive medicine like Schedule X drugs, narcotics or psychotropic medicines through their platforms. e-Pharmacies offer regular access to chronic medications for diabetes and high BP etc., which a user is unlikely to abuse. All medicines are dispensed only on upon furnishing of a valid prescription and substitutions are not allowed. This helps in only the required and right medicines being dispensed to the consumers.
Chronic disease management: The app based online pharmacies make it easy for patients to receive timely refills of their regular medication for problems such as diabetes, hypertension, blood pressure and others. They offer reminder facilities and help in keeping track of regular medication, thus, resulting in much greater adherence to the treatment and medication plan for diseases such as tuberculosis, etc. Thus, the e-Pharmacies not only provide easy access to affordable and genuine medicines, but, they also ensure that the patients don’t skip their treatment plans.
It is due to these benefits and efficient services that the e-Pharmacies managed to serve over 8.8 million households during the pandemic lockdown. With another potential 60 million plus households exposed to ecommerce, e-Pharmacies are all set to usher in a new era of reliable and easily accessible medicines to consumers in India.
(The author is Co-Chair, Digital Health Platforms. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the position or police of the Financial Express Online.)