India is becoming increasingly digital, especially, the metros. In fact, more and more people living in metro cities and other big cities prefer to order everything online as most online portals offer the same products at a cheaper rate, and then offer attractive discounts on the use of e-wallets, making it a win-win situation for the customer. Online transactions are also preferred because in case something goes wrong, your money is safely returned to you, cash transactions do not guarantee any of this security.
Add to it the fact that people are now living increasingly busy and app dependent lives, it makes sense to allow the customer to have a chance of getting medicines at home. Especially, when more families are becoming nuclear and self reliant, meaning that if and when one falls sick, there might not be very many people available to run their errands. If an individual is living in a city on their own, home delivery of medicines on the day of sickness is a blessing. There have been various doubts about the importance of e-pharmacies. In this post, we will try and understand the benefits of online pharmacies as well as the future of online medicine shops, but before we start unravelling the importance of having your pharmacy a click away, we must first understand what an e-pharmacy is.
- What is an E-Pharmacy?
- Benefits of E-Pharmacies:
- E-Pharmacies: Business Model
- History and Future of Online Pharmacies:
- How to Ensure Doorstep Delivery of Your Medicines in Easy Steps:
- Proposed Provisions Of The New E-Pharmacy Regulation Bill:
- World Pharmacist Day:
What is an E-Pharmacy?
An e-pharmacy is like your Myntra, Flipkart or Amazon for medicines, which means that it is a one-stop online portal where a person can seek medical advice through online consultation, order prescription drugs after duly sharing a copy of the prescription, access OTC health products, and in some cases, even order relevant health check up tests and receive all of these services at their doorstep. Just like other e-commerce portals, online pharmacies offer good discounts and cash back on all services offered.
In fact, the Ken Market Research, 2016 reported a rising trend in the preference for e-pharmacies. The incidences of usage of online pharmacies has risen from 0.5% in 2000 to 38.6% in 2016. The research also asserts that these trends are not going to slow down any time soon. In fact, for developing economies like India, the report projects a ~14% rise in the usage of e-pharmacies by 2020, making the industry a billion dollar industry.
Such rise in the popularity of online pharmacies has been met with resistance from offline pharmacies, huge support from the public and government is more than inclined to create specific policies which cater to online medicine shops.
Benefits of E-Pharmacies:
Right off the bat, we would say e-pharmacies offer comfort and ease. You as a customer have to just place your medicine order and the rest of it, including doorstep delivery of your order, is taken care of by the e-pharmacy.
Online pharmacy in India is a niche and upcoming sector for now, which means that there are very few authentic pharmacies and they offer brilliant discounts and cashbacks. A part of it has to do with a reduced cost of maintenance on the company. No matter what model of business an online pharmacy adopts they generally save on the cost of maintaining infrastructure for offline pharmacies in the cities they function, making it easier for them to offer attractive discounts and better services without incurring huge loss.
Ease of Accessibility:
All online businesses flourish because they are easy to access and understand. E-pharmacies are no different. Customer experience being paramount, most online pharmacies sell drugs online through a few simple steps, that any customer with access to internet could follow. The other side of accessibility is also empowerment. There are several patients or customers who are dependent on others for their healthcare for short term or long term. Online pharmacies allow all such patients to be more self reliant in their care.
Orders: History, Transaction, and Policies
All e-pharmacies maintain a detailed record of all online sale of medicines, along with transactions made and modes of payment. This is all your medical history in one place, in a future not so far away, your physician would be able to track your medicine purchase, meaning that it would be easier for them to predict risks of chronic disease and suggest preventive measures from there on.
Similarly, a combined, cumulative data of what kind of medicines are being sold the most, which areas are reporting a high sale of a particular drug, during a particular season can help give an in-depth insight to policymakers to make policies which simultaneously cater to the nation as a whole and are dynamic enough to be easily customisable to particular areas and seasons.
The Indian Internet Pharmacy Association was given the rights to self regulation until the government announced a particular law to deal with online pharmacies. The IIPA conscientiously decided to have strict compliances in place, the most important of which is authenticity of medicines. Thus, online pharmacies either manufacture their own medicine or get their supplies from trustworthy and established stockists.
Related Read: 10 Ways to Check for Fake Medicines
An educated customer is of great interest to an e-pharmacy because that would mean that customer is making an informed choice, is aware of drug interactions, knows his/her medical history, and is able to mitigate risks. Such education not just empowers the customers, it also helps build trust between the online pharmacy and the customer. Since pharmacies allow customers to pick from a range of branded to generic medicines, education is important for customers to make the right choice for themselves.
Customer data is fiercely protected by online portals, this ensures that the customer is not unnecessarily accosted with invasive communication which may damage the relationship between the online portal and the customer. That is, however, just one part of the privacy online medical apps provide, the other being anonymity to the patient. There are several diseases, which could cause patients to face much prejudice, online medicines help neutralise this prejudice, especially from the immediate environment of the patient, something the local chemist cannot prevent.
E-Pharmacies: Business Model
Like all online businesses, e-pharmacies also follow business models. There are two basic models, which can be used to explain the business practices of any and all e-pharmacies.
Unorganized Online Pharmacy:
To a layman, unorganized online pharmacies look a lot like an organized one. The basic and most subtle difference being that unorganized online pharmacies do not ask for prescriptions for prescription drugs. This is a serious threat, as some medicines are potentially abusable and are abused, such practices endanger the lives of the patient. Another key factor, being that most unorganized online pharmacy generally ask the customers to pay upfront. Also, the WHO published a report stating that, 35% of global counterfeit medicines are produced in India. This goes on to indicate, that since, unorganized e-pharmacies can possibly not get resources from stockists who hold valid licenses, they probably sell medicines that are fake.
In fact in 2016, the Drug Controller General of India taking cognizance of the number of complaints made about the quality of services offered by online medicine shops, started a campaign to identify fake e-pharmacies and shutting them down. All in all 1700 fake online pharmacies were shut down.
However, that hasn’t mitigated the risk of fake medicines, we have discussed how to identify fake medicines in a separate post.
Organized Online Pharmacy:
Organized online pharmacies will always demand for a prescription for prescription drug. Not only this, your medical records will be critically monitored, your purchases tracked, your medication tenure checked thoroughly before delivering medicines to your doorstep. Most organized online medicine shop are a part of the IIPA, which means that they generally have very stringent medicine quality detection in place. Organized e-pharmacies follow one of the following models of business:
Some online medicine shops have a physical stock base, a central reserve infrastructure from where all medicines are sourced to different cities and states. Some e-pharmacies are a part of the larger manufacturing units, which means that they not only produce their own medicines, but they also have centralized stockpiles all over the country, enabling them to make medicines available to the customers as soon as possible.
The other side of maintaining a centralized stockpile is to collaborate with existing stockpiles. Some e-pharmacies collaborate with a certain number of chemist shops in a city. When a customer places the order for medicines, the order is communicated to the nearest pharmacy and then it is the partner chemists’ responsibility to make the drug available. This model is being followed by several online portals.
History and Future of Online Pharmacies:
E-pharmacies cropped up in India partly because the market is highly unexplored and partly from the personal experiences of CEOs who were inspired to make healthcare more about the recuperation of the body rather than about running around to pay the bills. While online pharmacies emerged during the dot com bubble, they fizzled out as soon as the dot com bubble burst. E-pharmacies then made a return in 2013, along with other e-commerce platforms and have soared high since then. FICCI, PIB, MoHFW et al. carried out a market analysis to gauge the future of online medicine shops and predicted that by 2020 nearly 35% of the Indian population would be urban, leading to a continuous rising trend in the usage of mobile apps for healthcare, especially when 80% of the urban population would be investing nearly 50% of its gross income in healthcare, and online portals offer cheaper healthcare options.
If we take a look at the image below, we see a definite rise in the use of online pharmacy apps. The rise is even more significant, if we look at the time gap, in nearly 5 years, the preference for e-pharmacies have almost doubled, from 23% in 2013 to around 59% in 2018. The dip in 2017 can be easily explained by the rigorous crackdown by the government to end the false practices promoted by unorganized or fake e-pharmacies.
How to Ensure Doorstep Delivery of Your Medicines in Easy Steps:
Yes, it is that easy, and we won’t waste your time. So, let’s start with the steps already:
- Visit medlife.com or open your medlife app.
- Upload your prescription
- Select your medicines
- If you are a visitor on the site and don’t have an account yet, you will be asked to enter the patient’s details like name, address and phone number.
- If you have logged in from your account, customer details would be automatically updated from the in-app directory. If you need to change the details, you will have to update your address book accordingly.
- Move to the payment gateway. Mention any promo codes, if you have them.
- Select mode of payment.
- Place order.
- You will receive a confirmation call as soon as you place an order.
- Your order will be delivered to your doorstep in the next 24 hours.
Note: In case you do not have a prescription, you can also opt for doctor consultation, discuss your symptoms with an expert empaneled doctor, who would then update your prescription.
Proposed Provisions Of The New E-Pharmacy Regulation Bill:
Organized online pharmacies have lobbied since the day of their inception for recognition as well as a dedicated regulation for e-pharmacies. This regulation will help provide a framework of functionality to all current as well as future e-pharmacies. Last year, the Prime Minister of India met with the C-suites of several large e-pharmacies, seeking their suggestions for the shape, structure and important provisions of the e-pharmacy regulation bill. Here is a brief list of suggestions put forward by e-pharmacies:
- The inclusion of e-pharmacies in all major acts and regulations: Most pharmacy governing acts and regulations were brought into force before the dawn of the internet era and hence have no provisions that recognize e-pharmacies.
- One license: Since most e-pharmacies work on a national level, they also require an all India permit for functioning.
- Treatment akin to the offline pharmacies.
- Centralised registration for all e-pharmacies, so that one national database could be created.
- Telemedicine or e-consultation is a huge business opportunity, hence, there is a need for regulation for the same.
By October 2017, the government of India had issued the first draft of the e-pharmacy regulation bill. This bill addressed the concern expressed by many offline chemists that online medicine stores could be used for the potential sale of prescription, addiction causing medicines. Stakeholder government bodies have also suggested that in order to maintain the validity and genuineness of medicines sold, all medicines with their batch numbers and other details would be recorded at a centralised database, this would allow the government to track the movement of medicines.
A proposition that has been opposed by most offline pharmacies who believe that this suggestion is problematic on the grounds of coordination, on the other hand, this suggestion has been welcomed by online pharmacies.
Another proposition is the division of all drugs and healthcare products into 5 schedules, starting with minimal risk medicines schedule to high risk of addiction and abuse schedule. A customer will have to provide a prescription for buying all medicines.
A record of the prescription, duly signed off as “delivered” along with the transaction details will be saved by the online pharmacy. Also, for all high risk scheduled medicines, repeat orders will also require the proof of prescription at every re-order, instructing the patient clearly the need of it for availing the said drugs.
All these suggestions are welcomed by online pharmacies, who have already set similar standards of function in motion.
World Pharmacist Day:
Established by the International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP), this day was first celebrated on September 25, 2010. Since then it has taken a global turn and is celebrated world over since then. This day is celebrated to commemorate our pharmacists, to honour the age old occupation and highlight the importance of pharmacists. It seems that in a digital day and age, online pharmacies have become a part of this honour bound tradition and we are just going to rise higher.