E-pharmacies: What You Need to Know

The full deets about buying medicines online

V. Kumara Swamy Published Aug 22, 2019 12:50:53 IST
E-pharmacies: What You Need to Know

A few months ago, drawn by a funny TV commercial and an attractive discount (30 per cent!), I decided to try buying my meds online. Downloading an e-pharmacy app, I registered myself, but my prescription was three years old, hence the transaction could not take place. But the platform had a solution. I could consult a licensed doctor through it. In a few hours, I was talking to a Maharashtra-based MD, who went through my medical history, asked a few questions and gave me what I needed. Within a day, a licensed pharmacist delivered the medicines at my doorstep. I had saved around ₹300 on just one transaction.

Unwittingly, I had joined a growing number of people buying their medicines online. According to a recent study by the international consultancy firm, Frost & Sullivan, the e-pharmacy market in India was estimated at around $512 million (₹3,500 crore) last year and is estimated to gallop to $3,657 million (₹25,000 crore) by 2022. These numbers are actually small compared to brick-and-mortar medical stores. “Overall, e-pharmacies are 1.5-2 per cent of the $18 billion (₹1.26 lakh crore) pharma industry in India. The business has picked up in the last three years, as it works well for the chronic patient use cases,” says Dharmil Sheth, co-founder of PharmEasy.

In fact, the bulk of medicines on demand from e-pharmacies are for chronic diseases such as Alzheimer’s, asthma, diabetes, cancer, etc. Some major e-pharmacies in India include Medlife, Netmeds, PharmEasy, and 1MG.


Safety first

Even though online shopping has taken off in a big way in India, most buyers are a bit queasy placing their faith in faceless, online companies for medicines. A few court rulings last year on the legality of these platforms have not helped matters. Last year, the Delhi High Court directed the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to draft policy guidelines for regulating and authenticating the e-pharma market, which have been released. “Right at the outset, Medlife voluntarily followed a stringent self-regulation process incorporating features like ‘no sale without prescription’, ‘sale of only genuine medicines’, etc.,” a spokesperson of Medlife says.

In fact, the industry has come together to form the Digital Health Platform to practise self-regulation. Some of their guidelines: Every medicine will be sold against a valid Rx prescribed by a registered medical practitioner; medicines will be sold only via licensed pharmacies; drugs that can be potentially abused and psychotropic drugs are never to be sold over these platforms. They also assure that their consumers’ personal information will remain confidential.

Medlife asserts that their platform is as safe as any brick-and-mortar pharmacy. It claims having as many as 39 quality checks from the time an order is placed until the customer receives it.


Key points to consider

* Never buy from an entity that does not require a doctor’s prescription.

* A valid invoice should come with a licence, GST, expiry date and batch numbers of the medicines that you procure.

* Always read user reviews before you pick a platform.

* Don’t wait until you are out of medicines to make a purchase online, as it may take a day or two for delivery.

As for the discounts that attract many such as myself, it seems these will continue to rain for some time to come. “We believe that affordability is only a part of the impetus; convenience plays an equal part. Every business has experienced a ‘discounting phase’ as retail migrated from storefront to e-commerce, as the economies of scale and the savings inherent to no-rent, no-sales staff, etc., have been passed on to the consumer,” says Bruce Schwack, director of communications, Netmeds.

Net net, e-pharmacies are generally safe as well as economical compared to your neighbourhood chemist. Just make sure you choose a reliable platform before you try them out.

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