How an online pharmacy can empower consumers?

One of the progressive technology models, which have evolved in the last few years, is tele-medicine that has enabled accessibility to the finest doctors at the tap of a button. Another recent innovation that has positioned itself as an attractive model in the healthcare space is OSS Pharmacy. However, the question is, if this model is here to stay?

"Today, the health space is completely dominated by multiple intermediaries/ middlemen, many of whom take advantage of the fact that consumers don’t have the information at their disposal. Consequently, they are forced to follow blindly. An informed consumer will change the game," says Prashant Tandon, managing director and co-founder of, one of India's leading online pharmacy start-ups.

What is OSS Pharmacy: Myths and Misconceptions

Broadly three models of OSS Pharmacy/OSS online pharmacy exist in the market today. It is very essential to know the difference between these three because often people misunderstand one with the other.

1. Organized OSS Pharmacy: There are two models which operate in this category. One is a market place model where a technology company connects neighbourhood licenced pharmacies to the end user. Other is an inventory-based model where OSS Pharmacy is an online service of an offline licenced pharmacy.

"Every order that is received is pruned and checked by a team of registered pharmacists. Orders requiring a prescription medicine are checked for a valid prescription. Without a valid prescription the medicines are not dispensed. The medicines are dispensed by registered pharmacists in a temper proof pack. With the most advanced technology aligned with their processes, they could keep track of each and every order. These steps can prevent self-medication and drug abuse, two major issues today. In addition, they provide important information (side effect, precautions etc.) about the drugs to the consumers," informs Tandon.

2. Non-organized OSS Pharmacy: In this model prescription medicines are ordered without any validated prescription. There is no check on the genuineness of the order due to absence of qualified pharmacists. Also, improper record keeping and no audit is a major area of concern.

3. Illegal international trade through OSS Pharmacy: In this model, drugs are shipped across the international borders without any prescription and approval from the concerned authorities. This is generally used to order cheaper version of drugs like Viagra.

These three models have been misunderstood and used interchangeably. There is lack of clear-cut guidelines around OSS Pharmacy which would help the public to differentiate between a genuine organized player and an illegal unorganized player. The European Union has issued a common logo for legally operating online pharmacies/retailers in the EU member states as one of the measures to fight against such pharmacies.

Similarly, the OSS Pharmacy concept has been specifically notified in many of the largest economies. Therefore, “it is only pertinent for India to have certain rules for e-pharmacies. With the right government intervention we can reap the rewards of technology through organized OSS Pharmacy channels,” say the industry experts.

How OSS Pharmacy is beneficial to customers

An online pharmacy can effectively address multiple issues the Indian healthcare consumer and system face.

1. Consumer convenience: The consumers would be able to order medicines in a convenient manner, from their mobile or computer. This will significantly help patients who are already sick and not in a condition to go out to find a pharmacy

2. Consumer access: Online platforms can aggregate supplies, making otherwise hard to find medicines available to consumers across the country. Offline pharmacies can only keep limited inventory, resulting in a consumer having to ask multiple stores to get his or her medicine

3. Consumer education: Online pharmacies have the technology infrastructure to provide value added information to consumers, such as drug interactions, side effects, medicine reminders, and information on cheaper substitutes. The more aware consumers will always benefit from the power of knowledge, which is easily distributed through the electronic medium.

4. Data records: All medicine purchases can be tracked - effectively reducing the problem of drug abuse and self-medication.

5. Medicine authenticity: With full tracking systems and solid technology backend, counterfeit medicines can be traced back to the channel/ manufacturer/ supplier, thereby making the market a lot more transparent and ensuring that authenticity is strictly maintained.

6. Transaction records: Organized online players would have systematic records for all transactions, with full taxes paid on each transaction. A great benefit to the state considering the size of the market

7. Data analytics: Online pharmacies can store and analyse large amounts of data on consumers across the nation which can be very useful for planning public health policies

8. Industry sustainability: An online pharmacy model will enable existing pharmacies to start online operations and serve a broader set of customers, or a network of pharmacies integrating to one platform and accessing a broader customer base while also ensuring that the inventory is consolidated. "This would reduce working capital requirements, remove wastage from system and increase margins, making the pharmacy model sustainable and higher value add," says Tandon.

OSS Pharmacy is well aligned to objectives of national development

According to industry experts, an online pharmacy aligns very well with national development objectives and has clear and tangible benefit to consumers as well as the industry. Across the world, it has been seen that growth of ecommerce and retail are complimentary and reinforce each other. Traditional brick and mortal retailers also innovate and strengthen their operations by leveraging e-commerce to reach more consumers.

The small sector of organized pharmacy retail in India would get a huge boost and a full industry can be transformed by leveraging the internet in a smart way. Besides, internet-based transactions are well aligned to address key known issues in pharmacy retail – tracking for authenticity, traceability of medicine, abuse prevention, addressing consumption of drugs without prescription, tax loss and value added services for consumer empowerment in healthcare, which are all key areas of national development. Besides, this would also enable doctors to adopt e-prescriptions in a big way – addressing the significant issue of errors due to misreading of doctors’ hand writing as well as recording of data for public health planning.

Industry experts say it is, thus, the right time as a country to define the regulatory framework to help OSS Pharmacy have a clear-cut operating model, in line with the concerns of the regulator, while providing benefits to the customers.

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