The absence of proper regulations and policies in the e-pharmacy sector in India has hampered its growth and investments, says Member of Parliament Dr Sasmit Patra. Speaking at the webinar titled E-pharmacy: The Road Ahead, organized by Delhi-based policy think tank – The Dialogue, Patra pointed out the lack of parliamentary scrutiny on this, despite it being an important sector.
The prevailing COVID-19 pandemic has paved the way for e-pharmacies to provide people with a convenient method of purchasing medicines without disrupting the lockdown and social distancing norms by offering door-to-door delivery services. This industry is an asset for healthcare advancement because of a number of deliverables like proper stock availability, cost efficiency, greater reliability and convenience, large-scale distribution network and flexibility of price comparison. These factors make the process of procuring medicines easier and complement the National Digital Health Mission by increasing people’s accessibility to medication by leveraging technology. Kazim Rizvi, Founding Director of The Dialogue, pointed out that the e-pharmacy, under the current circumstances, has emerged as one of the important sectors in the country. “By providing digital healthcare and doorstep deliveries of the pharmaceuticals, they have ensured the welfare of the citizens,” he said. “However, owing to the regulatory uncertainty and lack of concrete plans for this sector, the growth and innovation has been halted and has kept foreign investment at bay.” Rizvi forsees this sector as one of the crucical elements of the National Digital Health Mission, therefore, there is a need for certainty in the market.
Prashant Reddy, an advocate, noted that e-pharmacy has been operating in the grey space. He highlighted the need to convince policy makers and the market as to why e-pharmacy in India is needed. “Cartelization has been a major problem among the brick and mortar businesses and as a result, citizens have to pay a really high price for generic drugs,” Reddy said. “E-pharmacy would help in increasing the competition among the businesses and help the cause of healthcare while driving down the prices and margins to a reasonable figure. He added that the current regulatory uncertainty will affect the investments and growth of the sector. Dr Vikram Munshi suggested the government should focus on building a broader healthcare infrastructure which is just more than storage of medicines. He pointed out the need for a draft policy. Munshi believes that it is not either or, or when it comes to both online and traditional pharmacies. “They must work harmoniously. However, the e-pharmacies have to add value to their existing models and provide a diverse set of services.” For e-pharmacy to sustain, he said it is important that they go beyond just home delivering medicines and offering discounts. “They can explore tele-consultation and other services which will add more value to their business.”
According to Ujjwal Kumar, Policy Analyst Consumer Unity & Trust Society (CUTS), there are different models for e-pharmacy businesses such as platform based or inventory based which require different regulatory scenarios. “For example, platform based models where they are only acting as intermediaries between retailers and end users should not be subject to pharmacy laws,” he explained. “Further, there is a need for increased competition in this sector which could help its growth.” Kumar suggested that traditional traders and associations can leverage the technology by building their platforms and help the phased out retailers than discouraging the online players. He also urged policy makers to identify the objectives of regulation which can be identified based on the models and other factors. Rajat Garg, Co-Founder MyUpchar, said online and offline businesses have to work together towards providing services to the citizens. In regards to regulation, Garg said the government should not be a regulatory and the service provider at the same time, rather the government should be focused on creating the infrastructure and regulation.