If you had the chance to make the pharmacy of your choice, what would it have? Or better, what would it provide you? Medicine from the comfort of your bed? Affordable prices that don’t empty your pockets? Guarantee of quality (medical certification of some kind)? And the ease of not going to a hospital, not waiting at reception for your turn, not having to have a lot of expensive tests done?
Well, most of it is here. Online pharmacy is the reality you have been dreaming of.
Take Pharmeasy for instance, an online pharmacy that wasn’t widely popular in India earlier. But then, Covid struck and everyone wanted medicine without going out. Pharmeasy seized the opportunity and provided quality medicine, right at your doorstep, at unbelievably cheap prices.
Not just that, you can save on the medicines you buy online by using Pharmeasy coupons. This is also applicable for doctor consultation or other services you take from the Pharmeasy website.
The increase of cellphones has ensured that you have easy access to coupons anywhere around the country. Simply select one of the coupons as per your order and enjoy the discounts.
Challenges that online pharmacies face
Once the lockdown ended, Pharmeasy emerged as one of the leading online pharmacies in India. But no technology is perfect; there’s always scope for improvement. So is the case with the online pharmacy business as well.
There are still aspects of it that need to be worked on. And as far as the future of online pharmacies is concerned, it is here to stay but isn’t the perfect deal. It is possible that online pharmacy, in itself, won’t be enough. It is possible that a syndicate of online pharmacies and local drug stores is what we will need in the foreseeable future.
Here are some challenges ahead for online pharmacies:
1. The validity of online medicines
A major concern among online pharmacy users is that the medicines provided online can’t be validated. Since the users cannot see any physical source from where the medicines are being delivered, the users cannot be assured that the medicines were properly stored and not tampered with.
The users are also concerned about the number of hands the medicines change before reaching them. Who’s to know that the medicines are real and not just some excellent fakes?
2. A loose prescription system
Unlike conventional drug stores, online pharmacies may or may not ask for a prescription from the customer. Many online pharmacies totally sidestep online consultation and diagnosis, leaving it to the patient to decode the problem. And can all the online pharmacies guarantee that a single prescription can’t be used multiple times.
If stringent regulations are not put into place, then, online pharmacies will soon turn into an easy access point for drug peddlers and addicts.
3. Authority and Accountability
Which regulatory authority controls and oversees the actions of an online pharmacy? Of an online pharmacy that does its business state-to-state and even, country-to-country? Which body is to oversee such a large-scale distributor and keep it in check?
Online pharmacies are for good but they can’t be given full autonomy over the country’s drug market. Some kind of people’s bodies must hold them accountable. Like there is CDSCO (Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation) to regulate conventional pharmacies, there needs to be an oversight body for online pharmacies too.
Online pharmacies revolve around the concept of home delivery. The workforce delivering medicines is the most crucial part of the company. And they are responsible for the safe and timely delivery of the medicines to the customers.
But the delivery system of these online pharmacies is still heavily flawed. For instance, if a delivery person is to suffer some unfortunate accident (we know how unsafe Indian roads are), the delivery person, the customer, and the pharmacy all incur losses. Certain medicines are fragile and need to be transported in cold storage.
When an online pharmacy says that the medicines will be delivered in so-and-so days, they really can’t account for the above-mentioned scenarios. Also, in case of any emergency, people have no option but to turn to local drug stores.
What does the Pharmacy of the Future look like?
Despite the challenges ahead for online pharmacies, there are a lot of positive points to look at. India is widely considered the birthplace of medicine with Ayurveda.
Through many centuries, medicine has been heavily commercialized and become a commodity not accessible for all. But the Indian dream of “medicine for all” became possible with online pharmacies
Before working on the pharmacy of the future, we need to imagine how it will be. Here’s what it will look like:
1. Technology of the future already in use
Technologies like Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things, which are being used in the pharma sector, have a much bigger role to play in the future. Every time a customer approaches an online pharmacy, it will require less and lesser effort from the customer.
Patients’ health backgrounds will be easily accessible and only to the concerned professionals. There will be lesser and lesser human element in online pharmacies, eradicating any scope for human error.
2. Instant verification of online prescriptions
Not just online prescriptions, but any medical prescription will be verified instantly by specific, foolproof software. Hence, the prescriptions will be processed faster and the medicines dispatched without delay.
A verification software will also erase many of the loopholes in the online pharmacy concept. Medicines will be accurately regulated and tracked. No scope for leniency either.
3. A user-centered online pharmacy system
If a user shifts from one online pharmacy to another for some reason, then, the prescriptions and patient info need to be supplied again. All the steps need to be done again by the user.
Instead, the online pharmacies of the future will be user-centered. The whole of the online-pharmacy network will be shaped around the user. The user will retain full responsibility for his/her/their health information and. The user will also have the right of opinion in the matters of his/her/their own health.
4. Conventional drug stores still exist
Believe it or not, online pharmacies are not going to entirely substitute conventional pharmacies any time soon. Local drug stores will continue to play their part, albeit in a reduced capacity.
For any emergency cases, people will still turn to local pharmacies. Major hospitals will also stick with physical drug stores. Conventional pharmacies will still have a higher level of trust and user interaction.
That is why, it is in benefit for both online and conventional pharmacies, to work in collaboration rather than competition. The future of pharmacy in India is an amalgam of online pharmacies and local drug stores. For instance, Apollo, one of the frontrunner pharmacies, has a physical as well as a digital presence.
In conclusion, online pharmacies are far from a finished product. But they are definitely a step in the right direction. If you are looking to invest in one, they are a safe bet. If you are looking to work in one, that’s a job becoming more and more handsome every day.
And if you are looking to buy medicines from one, better to know its benefits and shortcomings before. Believe me, online pharmacies, in some or other form, are the future of medicine distribution in India.
Thumbnail Credit: Vis Designz