whether the person undergoes surgery or not. In diabetes, asthma, and arthritis, drug costs can be 70-80% of treatment costs. “So if the drugs cost about Rs 25,000 a year, a 10-20% reduction in drug prices can result in lifelong savings for the patient,” Tandon says. For cancer patients, price savings could be as much as Rs 75,000 - Rs 3 lakh, he estimates.
Online also provides convenience. “For the elderly and sick, an online delivery model is crucial as they might have serious mobility issues,” says Dharmil Sheth, CEO of epharmacy PharmEasy.
Sheth also notes that for an offline retailer, it does not make sense to stock up on expensive drugs for rare diseases and genetic condi- tions because the likelihood of getting a customer from the locality is low. In most such cases, doctors prescribing these drugs give patients the manufacturer’s direct number. Online players do not have this constraint because their market is almost the entire country.
Online players supply to more than 22,000 pincodes in India, including the Andaman and Nicobar islands and Lakshadweep. They use India Post, and other delivery partners used by the likes of Flipkart and Amazon, to make the deliveries. “This has led to a drastic reduction in the time taken for delivery (to remote areas). E-pharmacies are now able to deliver on the same day or within 4-5 days,” says Pradeep Dadha, CEO pharmacy Netmeds.
But can delivery costs offset the online advantage, given that these costs are rising with the emergence of numerous delivery ventures? “Cancer drugs normally cost between Rs 15,000 and Rs 3 lakh. So a charge of Rs 50-70 for delivery is something patients are unlikely to crib about,” says Tandon.
Online players also say that their model can lead to better disease management and increase adherence to prescribed treatment plans. “Your neighbourhood store owner can’t keep calling a dozen people everyday to remind them about their insulin shots. But we can non-intrusively send out reminders to stock-up drugs or of e- re-fill injection doses. Globally, studies have shown that digital healthcare models can drive adherence,” says Tandon. Their mobile apps also offer free diet counselling and digital retrieval of prescriptions.
The digital trails in online are also providing greater confidence to stakeholders. Many of the bigger general insurance companies, like Max BUPA and Apollo Munich Health Insurance, have started partnering with e-pharmacies for their OPD (outpatient department) covers because of the e-billing and tracking facilities they offer.
“Traceability and auditability will help law enforcement, government regulation and insurance coverage