With the advent of e-Commerce in India, experts foresee a new window of opportunity for venture capitalists to invest in the more fertile and growing platform. Where online shopping is becoming a household name for customers, the need for online pharmacy has been transpired among the users. Due to tremendous growth of e-Commerce in India, the need for online pharmacy in India has significantly increased. People seek for convenient and economical delivery of medicine service. Not just an online pharmacy, but a service that guarantees to surmount non-availability, lack of authenticity and high priced medicines.
There is lot of material on internet regarding legality of online pharmacies in India. Following are the key points highlighted by our lawyers:
Laws for Pharmacies in India are derived from Drug and Cosmetics Act 1940, Drugs and Cosmetic Rules 1945, Pharmacy Act 1948 and Indian Medical Act 1956. Apart from this, there are few high court judgments that have provided further insights and interpretation of the laws.
- Indian Laws related to pharmacies were written prior to arrival computers, let alone internet.
- India doesn’t have any concrete laws defined for Ecommerce Companies. The only laws related to internet in India are defined under Information Technology Act, 2000. As per several media a report, Indian Government is currently drafting new set of laws for Ecommerce companies.
- After analyzing the various laws, our lawyers have come up with the following ‘zones’ for online pharmacies in India. Below, GREEN ZONE refers to activities that are legal under Indian Laws, GREY ZONE refers to activities that are uncertain under current legal system and RED ZONE refers to activities that are illegal. An online pharmacy must operate under GREEN ZONE.
The following three models of e-pharmacy/online pharmacy are more prevalent in the market today. It is very essential to know the difference between these three because often people misunderstand one with the other.
- Regulated e-pharmacy:
One of these kinds is market place model where a technology company connects neighborhood licensed pharmacies to the end user. Another is an inventory-based model where e-pharmacy is an online service of an offline licensed pharmacy.
“Every order that is received is scanned and checked by a team of registered pharmacists. Orders requiring a prescription medicine are checked for a valid prescription. Without a valid prescription the medicines are not dispensed. The medicines are dispensed by registered pharmacists in a temper proof pack. With the most advanced technology aligned with their processes, they could keep track of each and every order. These steps can prevent self-medication and drug abuse, two major issues today. In addition, they provide important information (side effect, precautions etc.) about the drugs to the consumers,” .
- Non-regulated e-pharmacy:In this model prescription medicines are ordered without any validated prescription. There is no check on the genuineness of the order due to absence of qualified pharmacists. Also, improper record keeping and no audit is a major area of concern. Even free home delivery of medicines on a phone call comes under this model, where a owner and Pharmacist can be booked under Drugs and Cosmetics Acts and Rules 1945.
- Illegal trade through e-pharmacy:In this model, drugs are shipped across the international borders without any prescription and approval from the concerned authorities. This is generally used to order cheaper version of drugs like Viagra.
These three models have been misunderstood and used interchangeably. There is lack of clear-cut guidelines around e-pharmacy which would help the public to differentiate between a genuine organized player and an illegal unorganized player. The Indian FDA has held series of meeting to draft guidelines to address these issues.
Similarly, the e-pharmacy concept has been specifically notified in many of the largest economies. Therefore, “it is only pertinent for India to have certain rules for e-pharmacies. With the right government intervention we can reap the rewards of technology through organized e-pharmacy channels,” say the industry experts.
How e-pharmacy is beneficial to customers
An online pharmacy can effectively address multiple issues the Indian healthcare consumer and system face.
- Consumer convenience:The consumers would be able to order medicines in a convenient manner, from their mobile or computer. This will significantly help patients who are already sick and not in a condition to go out to find a pharmacy
- Consumer access:Online platforms can aggregate supplies, making otherwise hard to find medicines available to consumers across the country. Offline pharmacies can only keep limited inventory, resulting in a consumer having to ask multiple stores to get his or her medicine
- Consumer education:Online pharmacies have the technology infrastructure to provide value added information to consumers, such as drug interactions, side effects, medicine reminders, and information on cheaper substitutes. The more aware consumers will always benefit from the power of knowledge, which is easily distributed through the electronic medium.
- Data records:All medicine purchases can be tracked – effectively reducing the problem of drug abuse and self-medication.
- Medicine authenticity:With full tracking systems and solid technology backend, counterfeit medicines can be traced back to the channel/ manufacturer/ supplier, thereby making the market a lot more transparent and ensuring that authenticity is strictly maintained.
- Transaction records:Organized online players would have systematic records for all transactions, with full taxes paid on each transaction. A great benefit to the state considering the size of the market
- Data analytics:Online pharmacies can store and analyze large amounts of data on consumers across the nation which can be very useful for planning public health policies
- Prescription proofs,
- insurance information,
- Paymentplan information, and other options
- Access to Prescription Records:
- Improved Workflow:
- E-prescribing over written prescribing is the expansion of patient safety by reduction of ADEs
- No formal contact with Pharmacist
(to prevent any kind of misunderstanding regarding the medicines)
- Cost Disadvantages: Shipping charges ought to be computed in consideration of the time you will want or require the medication to arrive. If you want the drugs to come as quickly as possible, then you need to choose the fastest option. Usually, this will be more expensive. Nevertheless, unless you mind when it arrives, the standard shipping can be trusted and inexpensive.
- The overall experience and comparison
- Clarification of Inaccuracies
- Software Design Issues:
Ministry of health and family welfare, Department of Health & Family Welfare has given a public notice on the subject “Public Consultation regarding regulations of Sale of Drugs in the Country” on March 16th 2017.
The objective of such regulations would be to ensure availability of right drugs that meet the standards of quality to every person, in need of medicines curbing anti microbial resistance and also regulating supply of medicines through online /internet to persons or other entities in outside India.
Prof Vijay Bhalla