Govt should immediately notify e-pharmacy rules: Dr Jagashetty

To bring in transparency in pharma trade, the Union government should immediately release the much-delayed e-pharmacy rules

Medicine online
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Last Updated on October 5, 2020 by The Health Master

To bring in transparency in pharma trade, the Union government should immediately release the much-delayed e-pharmacy rules. This will be in line with the government’s path of reform, where it recently introduced the Agriculture Bill to free farmers from the monopoly and exploitation from the associations and agents, said Dr BR Jagashetty, former National Adviser (Drugs Control) to MoHFW & CDSCO.

We hope the government will consider the e-pharmacy model as a growth opportunity by bringing in required reforms in the retail pharmacy sector to help it open up and evolve, he added.

During the COVID-19 nationwide lockdown, pharmacists were at the frontline despite being at the risk of  exposure. Pharmacy retailers ensured adequate stocks to dispense lifesaving medicines to patients. Here digital technology was intrinsic to identify pharma distributors and drug manufacturers to make available the medicines and medical devices at the doorstep of consumers. Besides, consumers too preferred ordering medicines online fearing COVID-19 and benefitted from its convenience. The government’s timely Telemedicine guidelines gave a fillip to online medicine purchase. However, government can restrict sales of habit forming, Schedule H1 and X drugs. Going forward, post the pandemic, purchase of medicines via valid prescriptions online will be the preferred mode. It is here the government should take a cue from this consumer experience and bring in the e-pharmacy regulations without delay, Dr Jagashetty told Pharmabiz.

Noting that a major chunk of healthcare expenses being out of pocket wherein over 50 percent constituted medicines, Dr Jagashetty quoting the Competition Commission of India (CCI) report said “Only self-regulation by trade associations controls the entire drug distribution system in a manner that mutes competition.”

Further in June 2019, CCI had observed that Madhya Pradesh Chemists & Druggists Association along with other district-level associations and pharma companies to be in contravention of the Competition Act. Besides, the Commission stated that associations demanded No Objection Certificate or Letter of Consent from the pharma companies to appoint stockist which was a gross violation of Section 3(3)(b) read with Section 3(1) of the Act. Earlier in 2015 too, CCI penalized the Chemists & Druggists Associations.

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In fact CCI recommended adoption of digitization to reduce information asymmetry. Here, e-pharmacy, with appropriate regulatory safeguards, has the potential to transform the dynamics of drug retail in India without affecting existing brick & mortar chemist fraternity, noted Jagashetty.

“Such practices not violating any act or rules, however, mute the competition and innovation in this space. Small chemists, stockists, organized pharmacy retail and now e-pharmacies are under constant pressure not to give discounts or pass on their margins to the consumers.  Since 2015, trade associations have repeatedly filed writ petitions in several courts with misrepresentation, in order to curb competition and for trade rivalry. Instead progressive trade associations should ensure that drug dispensing by pharmacy outlets should be only under the supervision of pharmacists and against the copy of prescription by a Registered Medical Practitioner.

Therefore it would be prudent for the pharmacy retail associations to be able to enforce anti-competitive trade practices. This is where e-pharmacies can bring in transparency and spur price competition by adopting innovative technology models to serve consumers in an effective and efficient manner. Hence an immediate notification of final e-pharmacy rules is the key to prove government’s strong commitment to improve healthcare access and promote Digital India,” said Dr Jagashetty.

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