On­line phar­ma­cies are help­ing to lower health­care costs in In­dia

They are also mak­ing drugs more ac­ces­si­ble in re­mote ar­eas. But if you need a drug im­me­di­ately, which is of­ten the case, your lo­cal drug­gist is still the best op­tion

The Times of India (Mumbai edition) - - SUNDAY SPECIAL - Rachel.Chi­tra @times­group.com

In Septem­ber, the All In­dia Or­gan­i­sa­tion of Chemists and Drug­gists (AIOCD) held protests against the Cen­tral gov­ern­ment’s draft pro­posal to for­malise on­line sales of drugs. De­spite on­line phar­ma­cies con­tribut­ing only 2-3% of to­tal drug sales in In­dia, the drugs as­so­ci­a­tion felt threat­ened enough to call for a panIn­dia bandh. The protests saw par­tic­i­pa­tion by 8.5 lakh chemists across the coun­try.

What hap­pened in gen­eral re­tail, with the en­try of Flip­kart, Ama­zon and Snapdeal, is now hap­pen­ing in drug re­tail. With lower prices and easy ac­ces­si­bil­ity, on­line drug re­tail ven­tures are be­gin­ning to hurt phys­i­cal drug stores.

Prices on­line are 10-20% lower than in off­line. “On­line play­ers cut out so many of the costs — real es­tate, in­ven­tory, salaries to em­ploy­ees, util­i­ties, in­ter­me­di­aries,” says Prashant Tan­don, CEO of e-phar­macy 1mg and pres­i­dent of the Dig­i­tal Health Plat­form (DHP) — formerly called In­dia In­ter­net Phar­macy As­so­ci­a­tion — an as­so­ci­a­tion of eight e-phar­ma­cies in In­dia. The only sig­nif­i­cant costs that on­line play­ers have are re­lated to de­liv­ery.

Tan­don says that in can­cer, treat­ment costs could be be­tween Rs 12 lakh and Rs 40 lakh. And drugs cost be­tween 30-60% of to­tal treat­ment costs, de­pend­ing on of drugs,” say on­line play­ers. Tan­don says off­line is more sus­cep­ti­ble to ma­nip­u­la­tion and fraud. “Pun­jab to­day has an opi­oid cri­sis only be­cause of lack of law en­force­ment in the off­line space,” says Tan­don.

But none of this is likely to im­me­di­ately take away the rel­e­vance of off­line drug­gists. In many cases, you need the drugs im­me­di­ately, un­like a smart­phone or a pair of jeans. That’s not some­thing on­line can do. “We can’t re­place what off­line is do­ing. The ar­rival of Ama­zon and Flip­kart didn’t see the ex­tinc­tion of off­line stores. It’s the same with us,” says Netmeds’ Dadha.

The on­line as­so­ci­a­tion DHP has also de­cided to avoid sale of habit-form­ing nar­cotic, psy­chotropic drugs and painkillers. “As a sel­f­reg­u­lated body, we have de­cided to not sell sched­ule X drugs,” says Ra­jiv Gu­lati, gen­eral sec­re­tary of DHP and founder of e-phar­macy mChemist. DHP will fo­cus on car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­eases, can­cer, hy­per­ten­sion, di­a­betes, asthma, arthri­tis or con­di­tions of the cen­tral ner­vous sys­tem. The ob­jec­tive is to meet the need for drugs for chronic con­di­tions.

“I see no rea­son for off­line re­tail­ers to feel threat­ened. We form such a mi­nus­cule por­tion of drug sales that we can play a com­ple­men­tary role. We are look­ing at mak­ing drugs more ac­ces­si­ble. Af­ter all, it may not be prof­itable to set up brick-and-mor­tar stores in tier-3 cities or re­mote vil­lages and towns,” says Gu­lati.

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