The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci) on Tuesday announced a self-regulation code of conduct for the e-pharmacy sector that would ensure digital tracking and traceability of medicines while also addressing the problem of counterfeit medicines and use of medicines without prescription.
With the digital economy is poised to see exponential growth in the next 3-4 years, e-pharmacies could help address the issues of last-mile accessibility and affordability of medicines for patients while also ensuring that the government does not lose tax revenue.
Over the last two years, e-pharmacies have come up as a significant channel to effectively adopt technology into the healthcare system to remove barriers to accessibility, ensuring last-mile access.
The development could prove a huge relief to patients, particularly those suffering from chronic diseases, the elderly and the bed-ridden who are not in a condition to go out to buy medicines.
The e-pharmacy model is also well aligned with Digital India initiative of Prime Minister Narendra Modi whose vision is to transform the country into a digitally empowered society.
The self-regulation Code of Conduct prescribes proper safeguards to ensure that consumer's health and safety is not compromised.
For processing medicines against prescription, the code demands that scheduled drugs must be processed only against a valid copy of prescription (physical or scanned copy) of a registered medical practitioner.
In the case of sensitive habit-forming medicines, e-pharmacirs must ensure that no Schedule X and other sensitive habit-forming medicines are processed through their platform. They must ensure there are adequate checks and balances in place to restrict the sale of such drugs.
E-pharmacies have to ensure that drugs are dispensed only from duly licensed pharmacies domiciled in India and must make reasonable efforts to ensure that all the pharmacy partners (before facilitating the sale of any medicines through such pharmacy partners) are duly registered under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act/ Rules.
E-pharmacy must make suitable arrangements to ensure that the medicines are packed, transported and delivered in such a way that their integrity, quality, and effectiveness are preserved.
As part of public health Initiatives, e-pharmacies must partner with government for any recall of medicines and collect adverse events of medicines (consumer reports) and comply to submit them to National Centre for Pharmacovigilance.
E-pharmacies must ensure that there is a proper mechanism in place to address any queries or grievances that the end-customer may have. E-pharmacy players must appoint an ombudsman commission comprising of reputed members of civil society to address any public grievance. The ombudsman commission shall be appointed for six months by members of the governing council in consultation with other stakeholders.
Dr. Didar Singh, secretary general, Ficci, voiced support of consumer-friendly models and mentioned that India needs to move with the times and embrace new age models to stay ahead.
Arvind Gupta, head of Digital India Foundation said, "We need to embrace technology - in both offline and online models. There is a great opportunity to take this ecosystem ahead by leveraging the India stack using the existing infrastructure of Aadhar and Digi-locker to maintain the repository of prescription, health records and monitor the dispensing of sensitive medicines. All pharmacies, online or offline, should check prescriptions on this locker."
Pawan Kaul, co-chair of Ficci e-commerce committee added that by recognising and registering the legitimate e pharmacies, the government can easily address the challenges by maintaining sanctity of both IT act and Drug and Cosmetic Act. This will bring effectiveness and efficiency in the entire ecosystem.