Can we make medicines more affordable and accessible?

The much-awaited e-pharmacy draft rules issued by the Union Health Ministry are a step in the right direction.

 |  4-minute read |   30-09-2018
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India is at the crossroads, a step closer to putting laws in place — to ensure that patients are able to cash in on e-pharmacy. To put it in plain words — to purchase genuine medicines and to make medicines more affordable and accessible too. E-pharmacy start-ups are trying to disrupt the opaque supply chain, and e-pharmacy draft rules seem to be the right step.

The much-awaited draft rules firstly validates e-pharmacy. It also points to the fact that time has come for e-pharmacies to create a positive environment — to ease out conditions that would have made it difficult for them to operate in this space, and at the same time, it envelopes enforceable penal provisions in case of any violations. I feel that the new notification is a move in the right direction and will pave the way for a level playing field.

I feel there is a need to considerably improve accessibility and affordability to the quality medicines, for which leveraging technology will be critical. The introduction of the electronic portal and newer classification of medicines definitely brings in the much-required transparency and traceability in the retail pharmacy sector. The government has indeed been very proactive and supportive. In the Niti Aayog’s three-year road map, e-pharmacy finds a prominent mention.  

reuters_092818082051.jpgE-pharmacies provide transparency as well as offer lower costs and greater availability for the consumer. (Credit: Reuters photo/representational)

We should promote open knowledge and transparency around medicines and help consumers find the most cost-effective and safest substitutes, including generic equivalents to prescribed brands. The patients should be given a helping hand to connect with doctors, clinics, diagnostic centres, and local pharmacies — to enable a one-stop medical search experience.

After the Health Ministry came out with draft rules on sale of drugs, e-pharmacy players have welcomed the Union Health Ministry's draft Drugs (Sale and Distribution) Rules 2018, which aims at removing ambiguity on regulations to facilitate sales of drugs online. Working towards bringing clarity to the operational aspects of functioning of e-pharmacies, ensuring safe, compliant and efficient dispensing of medicines to patients, this is a welcome step and will by all means, remove ambiguity on regulations to facilitate online sale of drugs in a safe and secure environment.

In fact, there is a current of excitement running through e-pharmacy startups for the past few months after the government issued the draft. E-pharmacies, which have been apprehensive of aggressive expansion and marketing due to the absence of a regulator, are now busy chalking out their growth strategy for the next couple of years.  E-pharmacies are trying to disrupt the opaque supply chain. They provide transparency as well as offer lower costs and greater availability for the consumer, especially in rural areas. There is accountability and transparency too, as e-pharmacies keep a digital record of all transactions, which means every sale can be tracked and traced. Counterfeit and substandard products usually enter the system through informal cash-based channels, and digital traceability ensures accountability and improves quality.

protest_092818083354.jpgE-pharmacies are only trying to disrupt the opaque supply chain and bring more transparency. (Credit: Reuters/representational)

Advancement in technology, access to information, and businesses adopting a customer- centric approach to marketing and servicing has given birth to a new breed of customers. They are more aware, social media savvy and demand and expect certain facilities.

So, the complex pharma market is changing - from larger players, taking on multiple roles in the drug supply chain to new tech startups simplifying drug distribution. 

Experts also endorse that e-pharmacies are here to stay, with their discounts and doorstep deliveries. According to the FICCI report, pharmacy platforms are expected to account for 5%-15% of the total pharma sales in India, which would be largely achieved by enhancing adherence and access to the medicines for a large section of the underserved population.

Moreover, the report also states that the healthcare industry in India is at an inflection point right now and is poised to grow up to $280 billion by 2020.

With the promise of accurate disease management through e-pharmacy, the market is changing fast, and the time is not far, when we can have an accurate disease management system in place, that will benefit mankind. Doling out medicines that are easily affordable and accessible.   

Also read: Why India should have ads for prescription drugs like in the US


Prashant Tandon Prashant Tandon @tandon_prashant ‏

Co-founder and CEO of 1mg

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