Can E-Pharmacies Improve Availability and Affordability of Drugs
The success of e-commerce in India has given way for Pharmacy players to explore the digital space. As of October 31, 2018, there were 3,500 sites that sold medicines online in India. The current e-pharmacy market in India is valued at INR 3000 crore and is expected to grow exponentially to reach USD 3 billion by 2024.
Online sale of drugs is hailed for its convenience, reach, and potential to cut down medicine expenses. However, concerns abound over the quality and authenticity of these drugs.
A Strong Case for Making Drugs Affordable
Studies indicate that online pharmacies are likely to bring down the costs of drugs and medical devices by 10-20%.
Prashant Tandon, CEO 1mg and President of Digital Health Platform (DHP) is quoted in the Times of India, saying, “Online players cut out so many of the costs – real estate, inventory, salaries to employees, utilities and intermediaries.”
Cardiovascular conditions, respiratory disorders and diabetes are the common diseases among Indians. Medicines account for 70-80% of the treatment expenditure for these conditions, and the average spending by a person is INR 25,000. Purchasing drugs from e-pharmacies can help people save INR 2,500 to 5,000 every year. The savings increase with severe diseases like cancer where the cost of treatment is anything between INR 12 lac to 40 lac.
Better Accessibility and Compliance
Following the footsteps of other e-commerce players, e-pharmacies are managing to deliver drugs in 4-5 days, often to the remotest part of the country.
At the same time, they are eliminating senior citizens’ dependency on family members for their routine medicines. Experts suggest e-pharmacies could improve accessibility of medicines for rare diseases.
Additional benefits include better treatment compliance by issuing notifications when it is time to restock and even sending daily reminders to ensure people don’t miss their daily doses.
Cause for Caution
Recently, the Tamil Nadu Chemists and Druggists Association petitioned the Madras High Court asking it to ban the sale of drugs online, citing higher chance of fake, expired, contaminated, unapproved or unsafe drugs being sold. “Medicines are not simple items of commerce, they are an essential component of patient’s health and they must be administrated to patients in a timely manner as prescribed by a registered medical practitioner and such drugs are provided under the direct supervision of qualified pharmacist for the benefit of patients”, noted the petitioner in Times of India. Following this, the Madras HC banned all e-pharmacies in India.
The laws that allow the sale of drugs in India were framed before the invention of computers and thus they do not permit the sale of medicines online. Currently the laws that govern medicine sale are Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940, Drugs and Cosmetics Rule, 1945, and Pharmacy Act, 1945.
New Gazette Notification
Centre has proposed a draft e-pharmacy policy to regulate online sale of medicines. The new regulation is expected to alleviate all doubts around credibility of e-pharmacies.
Do you think e-pharmacies will improve availability and affordability of drugs in India?