The last decade and half has seen a surge of e-commerce ventures and changed the landscape of trade and business. It has shrunk the world like never before and allowed easy and quick access to a plethora of products to the populace, spoiling them for choice. The manner and speed with which these ventures have catapulted business into a fascinating realm, it was not long before e-commerce entered into the healthcare sector.
Surf the net and one will come across products ranging from cosmetics, health supplements, and herbal products to cosmoceuticals and nutraceuticals, all easily available for a price and claiming panacea for all ailments, perceived and real. In the era of information overload, these self-treatment options have gained disturbing proportions. However, the advent of retail pharmacies into the E-space for prescription drugs is a major cause of worry and to say that it is alarming is an understatement. Will these online pharmacies sound the death knell for retail pharmacies? Are they legitimate and safe? Transportation under inappropriate storage conditions will affect the stability profile of the drug and the patient will have no way of knowing this. Unscrupulous elements will be able to market substandard, spurious or adulterated medicines or even expired medicines in a new package.
Pharmacists play a crucial role in patient counseling in a lucid way in local dialect and ensure a safe and rational therapy. This role will be undermined due to online pharmacies. The risk of misuse and abuse of medicines such as steroids and abortion pills will increase. The rampant use of antibiotics has led to the development of resistant forms of many infections and the regulatory bodies have woken up to this menace recently and have put curbs on over the counter sale of antibiotics. Online pharmacies, with weak authentication mechanisms will lead to a resurgence of this menace.
Online pharmacies did not have adequate regulatory controls to safeguard the patients in India. However the Drug Controller General of India has proposed new Draft Rule mandating provisions for online pharmacies and specifies enforceable penal provisions for offences and violations. It has also eased the licensing procedures for e-pharmacies. The earlier provisions that are retained include regulation of online pharmacies by the Drugs and Cosmetics Rules, 1945. They would also have to follow regulations like the Information Technology Act, 2000 and the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985. The new draft forbids the online pharmacy sector to advertise any drugs over media mediums such as radio or television.
The new guidelines also provide for health data privacy for patients. The new draft, however does not mention about the mechanisms for monitoring e-pharmacies as also the nature and severity of penalties in case of violations. A large segment of health-based products belonging to various ‘pathies’ and over-the-counter products have still not been brought under the purview of these regulations.
What we are looking at is only the tip of the iceberg. The manifestation of these negatives about online pharmacies in a country like India can have far-reaching consequences to the healthcare sector, which is already beset with a host of problems. In the era of Artificial Intelligence and life on Mars, we cannot afford to lag behind and it may be said that online pharmacies are here to stay. As per a report published by FICCI e-pharmacies will account for 5-15% of total pharma sales in India. The need of the hour is concerted and coordinated efforts by medical and pharmacy professionals, regulatory bodies and the government to develop stronger mechanisms and laws to protect the interests of the patients and to ensure fair trade practices.
Dr. Monica RP Rao,
AISSMS College of Pharmacy,
Kennedy Road, Near RTO.