The growth of internet has given rise to various technology driven models to access and serve consumers in a fast-paced and most efficient way. A recent innovation that has positioned itself as an attractive model in the healthcare space is e-Pharmacy, which in a span of just 4 years, is successfully catering to a huge number of consumers across the country. Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI) has been actively working to drive innovative models for healthcare access. FICCI has been dynamically involved in the policy, strategy and capacity building for this very important sector. The Chamber also supported the industry to come up with a ‘Code of Conduct’ for e-Pharmacies in the country to ensure proper compliance and high standards of operation and ensure there is no compromise in patient safety.
e-Pharmacies operate on the inspiration taken from Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi’s vision of ‘Digital India’. Currently, there are 50+ start-ups operating in e-Pharmacy space in the country, which provides quality and affordable medicines to about 50 lakh patients per month across the country and has served patients across 19000 + PIN codes. About 30,000 skilled professionals are employed by the sector. e-Pharmacy sector has attracted Rs 4000 crore plus in FDI from some of the top global investors, and another Rs 2000 crore is expected in the next 2 to 3 years. Thus, the sector has huge potential to attract FDI, which directly contributes towards the economic development of the country. Moreover, in e-Pharmacies, all transactions have a complete digital trail and can be fully tracked bringing transparency in pharma supply chain. Every order dispensed through e-Pharmacy is against a prescription and has a valid bill, therefore, tax to the government is paid in full.
e-Pharmacy is well covered under existing laws. There is no violation of any existing act and rules in current e-Pharmacy model. However, there are certain difficulties that the sector has been facing towards ease of doing business due to regulatory uncertainty. This is because of the pending Draft e-Pharmacy Rules. e-Pharmacy Draft Rules Provide Sector Specific e-Commerce regulations – aim to harmonize existing laws/guidelines. This is similar to other sectors like FSSAI Guidelines for e-Commerce Food Operators.
The delay in the notification of e-Pharmacy draft rules is causing confusion and anxiety for all the stakeholders involved in digital health ecosystem.
Mr Prashant Tandon, Chairperson, FICCI e-Pharmacy Working Group, said, “e-Pharmacies abide by FICCI Code of conduct for e-Pharmacies, and comply with the laws of the land. All the orders for prescription-based medicines are processed only against a copy of valid prescription and are dispensed by a licensed pharmacy having a registered pharmacist. e-Pharmacies strictly do not accept orders for habit forming medicines, narcotics, or any other sensitive medicines. Additionally, given the importance of the e-Pharmacy sector globally, several large investors have recently reached out to the e-Pharmacy players, expressing concern about the general investment and regulatory climate in India and have asked for clarifications. Given the government’s solid track record in making India ‘Open for Business’ we have been trying to allay their fears”.
e-Pharmacies in the country align very well with the national development objectives. It has also been observed that growth of e-Commerce and retail are complementary and reinforce each other. By leveraging the technology in a smart way and under appropriate regulatory control, the-Pharmacy sector has scope of adding immense value to the existing pharmacy retail industry, and also the overall healthcare sector. However, the delay in notifying the e-Pharmacy rules is causing a lot of issues for the e-Pharmacy players in terms of ease of doing business, as a simple and clear regulatory pathway is a prerequisite for innovation to thrive in this important sector. FICCI is committed towards working with the government for ensuring that patients across the country have access to quality and affordable medicines and healthcare through a very efficient supply chain. We hope the government would take into account the importance of digitization in healthcare space which eventually leads to an empowered consumer, and we request the government to notify the Draft e-Pharmacy Rules at the earliest.