Bengaluru: E-pharmacies have helped people cut their medicine costs and made it convenient for people buy drugs, but have become a cause of worry for health experts. With over 50 start-ups launched across the country, including MyraMed, Pharmeasy and Medline, the rapidly growing online pharmacies have been raising funds and expanding their reach and customer base. But health experts warn that online pharmacies are not governed by the rules and regulations applicable to brick-and-mortar establishments.
Dr Usha Manjunath, Director, Indian Institute of Health Management Research (IIHMR), said, “Though e-pharmacies increase convenience, have a cost advantage, improve a patient’s compliance and educate consumers, the shortcomings are lengthy returning process, lack of a regulatory mechanism, dependence on the internet/phone, nonexistence of a physical store to address the grievances of the people and increased chances of fraud.”
The Bangalore District Chemists and Druggists Association too warned that e-pharmacies increased the risk of psychotropic drugs under Schedule G and H reaching the wrong hands, and that pharmacies could pose a threat to conventional pharmacies because of high discounts.
One of the co-founders of an online pharmacy, refusing to be named, said, “We have around 400 customers and we offer discounts on all products. The customers should have prescriptions for prescription drugs, while there is no such requirement for over-the-counter drugs, like Dolo and Crocin.”
Dr Sachin Sinha, secretary, Narain Sewa Sansthan, said, “Most of the discounted medicines from online pharmacies are close to expiry dates. If patients don’t check the dates, then they could be in trouble and suffer serious health consequences.”
Last year, the central government had proposed a discussion on framing a policy to regulate the sector. In its draft Drugs and Cosmetics Act 2017, the government has mandated registration of these startups with the Central Licensing Authority. The government also ordered an audit of electronic platforms to check whether the drugs are being sold without prescription.
Dr Deepesh Venkatraman, Consultant Interventional Cardiologist, BGS Gleneagles Global Hospitals, said, “The unregulated structure of e-pharmacies is a ticking time bomb. Also, all those dispensing the medicines are not necessarily adequately trained, nor are they satisfactorily accountable. The threat is manifold, ranging from a typographical error from the patient’s side, unregulated availability of scheduled drugs to brand swapping.”
Dr Usha said that e-pharmacy platforms should enable physician approval, prescription validation and dispensing mechanisms clearly. “Though e pharmacies come under the purview of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940 the Drugs and Cosmetics Rules, 1945, guidelines on the sale of Schedule H and X drugs and the Information Technology Act, 2000, they don’t distinguish between online and offline pharmacies. This provides an opportunity for e-pharmacies to bypass regulations,” she said.