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Dos & Don'ts Of E-pharmacy

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The recent FIR against the chief executive and other directors of Snapdeal.com for selling prescription drugs online without a licence has brought back the consumer focus on fast flourishing e-pharmacy business in India.
 
Regulations like the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940, Drugs and Cosmetics Rules, 1945, and Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act, 1954 among others have detailed guidelines on the sale of scheduled drugs which can be sold only on prescription. There are also multiple laws that govern with the sale of food, health, cosmetics, drugs and medicines India. Experts say many online pharmacies in India are inviting legal risks by not following the applicable laws in this regard.
 
Says Prashant Tandon, Managing Director and cofounder of 1mg.com, one of India’s leading online pharmacy start-ups: “We are an online platform connecting consumers with existing offline pharmacies which have a licence.” According to Tandon, the health space today is completely dominated by multiple intermediaries and middlemen, many of whom take advantage of the fact that consumers don’t have the information at their disposal. “An informed consumer will change the game,” says Tandon.
 
Experts say there are broadly three models of e-pharmacy/online pharmacy that exists in the market and it is essential to know the difference between these three because often people misunderstand one with the other.
 
Organised e-pharmacy: There are two models which operate in this category. One is a market place model where a technology company connects neighbourhood licenced pharmacies to the end user. Other is an inventory-based model where e-pharmacy is an online service of an offline licenced pharmacy.
 
“Every order that is received is pruned 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,” said Tandon.
 
Non-organised 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. Various agencies of the Central and State governments have been cracking down on illegal websites and e-pharmacy portals through which scheduled drugs are getting sold.
 
And third model is the Illegal international trade through e-pharmacy in which 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.
 
Experts said the three models of e-pharmacy 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 European Union has issued a common logo for legally operating online pharmacies/retailers in the EU member states as one of the measures to fight against such pharmacies,” said an analyst who tracks the pharma sector.
 
Benefits of legitimate e-pharmacy
 
Once regulated with enough checks and balances, e-pharmacy would enable consumer 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.
 
With proper system in place, all medicine purchases can be tracked effectively reducing the problem of drug abuse and self-medication. The proper system can also weed out counterfeit medicines with each of the transactions getting recorded. “Online pharmacies can store and analyse large amounts of data on consumers across the nation which can be very useful for planning public health policies. This would reduce working capital requirements, remove wastage from system and increase margins, making the pharmacy model sustainable and higher value add,” says Tandon of 1mg.com.
 
 


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