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E-pharmacies

  Jul 18, 2020

E-pharmacies

How are e-pharmacies different?

E-pharmacies receive request for prescription and non-prescription medicines. For prescription drugs, the doctor’s instruction note has to be uploaded. These platforms then forward the orders to a licensed pharmacy in their network that is registered with the government authorities. They deliver the order to the customer through a courier. Some e-pharmacies also stock medicines and thus dispense directly. 

E-pharmacies have always claimed that their business model is well covered by the Information Technology Act, 2000 under the concept of intermediaries, and the pharmacy retail operations are covered by the Drugs and Cosmetics Act.

Why did government ban unlicensed e-pharmacies recently?

The Centre has ordered a halt to online drug sales through unlicensed online platforms—e-pharmacies—as it works on rules to regulate the sector. Drugs controller general of India (DCGI) directed all states and Union territories to prohibit sale of medicines through unlicensed online platforms till draft rules to regulate e-pharmacies are finalized and put in place.

Order cites a Delhi high court order dated 12 December 2018. Delhi high court order said online sales of medicines were in violation of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act.

What is its impact?

A setback for companies that have ploughed in millions of dollars to open up a new business arena amid lack of regulation. Example lack of proactive regulation, and policy uncertainty that hurts investment and innovation.

What are draft rules and what will be impact of new draft rules?

  1. The new draft rules require all digital platforms engaged in this business to register with the regulator and be available for inspections. 
  2. The draft rules allow only government-registered e-portals to sell drugs; they must retain the prescriptions and verify patients’ and doctors’ details.
  3. The Centre’s move would bring in accountability. 
  4. The sector claims that the benefit of the digital system is a fully accountable and auditable track, so every transaction can be verified with its prescription and invoice.

How big is the sector, what is its growth rate?

What is impact of E-pharmacies on offline chemist, customer and public health at large?

  1. Offline pharmacists have suffered due to the emergence of online sellers. 
  2. The industry claims loss of jobs. E-pharmacies, loaded with large private capital, offer 15-20% discounts, which offline retailers cannot match.
  3. Patients risk revealing their private health issues due to the information they share online. 
  4. There are concerns about the indiscriminate sale of habit-forming drugs, misuse of medicines and rising antimicrobial resistance.