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Ramesh Shankar
Wednesday, February 21, 2024, 08:00 Hrs  [IST]

The Delhi-based public policy think-tank Empower India has recently called upon the Central government to support the online sale of medicines and incentivise the offline pharmacy stores to sell medicines through e-commerce, to tap the potential of digital solutions. Stating that e-pharmacy has proven to be a boon for patients globally, it said that India stands to gain immensely by embracing this modern healthcare solution. To leverage these advantages, regulatory bodies must adopt flexible policies that facilitate seamless purchasing of online medicine and prescriptions. Similar to Europe, India's policymakers should implement adaptable regulatory frameworks that promote e-pharmacy growth while safeguarding patient interests. According to Empower India, India’s e-pharmacy market is expected to reach Rs. 89.47 billion by 2027, showcasing immense potential for both conventional e-commerce platforms and brick-and-mortar stores to capitalize on this burgeoning sector. E-commerce platforms are catering to consumer demands by offering a streamlined experience and end-to-end solutions that save time and provide flexibility. The availability of prescribed salt at a uniform price, convenience of ordering medicines from remote locations and arrangements for a specialist discussion (e-counsel) will be driving factors for the same. Empower India also said to the Central government that in an era where digital solutions are transforming ways of living, Indian regulators must incentivize offline pharmacy stores to sell medicines through e-commerce. This will not only increase their earning but also result in access to prescribed medicines at a uniform rate for the consumers. Drawing inspiration from Europe's achievements, India can spearhead its evolution towards a more accessible and patient-centric healthcare landscape. Citing a report by Copenhagen Economics, Empower India informed the Central government that 57 per cent of respondents in the European Union who used online dispensing services believe that such access helps improve adherence to medication.

Of course, the scope for e-commerce in the pharmaceutical sector is immense and if properly regulated, online pharmacies in India could prove beneficial to various stakeholders. According to a KPMG-FICCI report in 2022, the e-pharmacy market in India is expected to grow at an impressive CAGR of around 40-45 per cent in future, backed by the growing internet penetration and digital payments and government support. It is not for nothing that a large number of big corporate entities have started entering the e-pharmacy and these big players are now vying with each other to get a substantial part of the e-pharmacy pie. Close on the heels of the US-based e-commerce behemoth Amazon’s entry into the sector, Indian retail giant Reliance Retail has also thrown its hat in the ring. Hoping to exploit a fast-growing market fuelled by a large base of Smartphone users, Reliance has acquired a majority equity stake in Chennai-based online pharmacy company Netmeds for around Rs. 620 crore. Earlier, another online pharmacy player PharmEasy had agreed to merge with its smaller rival Medlife. Walmart-owned Flipkart has also forayed into the e-pharmacy space which has over 50 platforms providing services to nearly 22,000 pin codes across the country and employing over 30,000 people. It is apparent that from Amazon to Reliance, major players have entered the pharmacy race to scale up, consolidate and corner a share of the pharmacy market, which is expected to swell several-fold in times to come. However, there is a serious need for framing the laws within India, as the online pharmacy laws in India are still in nascent stage and there are no dedicated online pharmacy laws in India. In the absence of regulatory guidelines, there is always a threat and possibility for supplying illegal or unethical medicines or outdated, substituted, or counterfeit medications to the person who ordered the drug, instead of the real medication. The government should come out with a dedicated online pharmacy laws without wasting any further time.

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