Arushi Jain, Executive Director, StayHappi

Arushi Jain is an award-winning executive who received the prestigious ‘Young Entrepreneur Award’ at the India CSR Summit 2018, at India Habitat Centre, New Delhi. After holding a key position in a prominent firm like Ernst & Young, Ms. Jain has brought forward her expertise of Strategy, Audits, Taxation, and Financial matrix to play a vital role in StayHappi’s progress across the nation and continues her influential part for the foremost business decisions.

 

As Covid continued to wreak havoc throughout the world over the last year, online pharmacies have emerged as an increasingly popular option to purchase medicine due to quarantine restrictions put in place to limit the virus’s spread. E-pharmacies have reshaped and altered the face of healthcare, becoming a foundation of medical management in these difficult times.

With the aggressive first wave followed by the deadlier second wave in October 2020, coupled with the fear of contracting the virus weighing heavily on people’s minds, internet pharmacies emerged as the preferred way of buying medicines.

High number of infectious cases in the city along with regional lockdowns drove customers to purchase online rather than visit offline pharmacies and diagnostic centres. As contactless delivery gained traction during Covid times, it further fueled the demand for online pharmacies. Additionally, fast rising internet usage, customer behaviour, and enhanced digital payment infrastructure facilitated the online buying. 

People initially avoided in-person doctor visits for acute illnesses owing to the lockdown and danger of infection, instead relying on self–medication/self–diagnosis apps. However, as the epidemic lasted more than a few months, patients were compelled to seek out new sources of reliable acute treatment. 

Hospitals and e–pharmacies, together, incorporated Tele-consultation systems and expanded their current digital capabilities. Tele-consultation and e–pharmacy systems have shown rapid increase in both doctor and patient usage since then. Fortis Healthcare, for example, has seen a shift in outpatient department (OPD) consultations, with 10% of pre–COVID-19 visits shifting to the Tele-consultation platform.

The pandemic generated a demand for a digitally linked healthcare ecosystem to provide reach for patients and physicians who avoid in-person appointments to avoid infection.  

Fueled by the overwhelming demand during the second wave, India’s online pharmacy experienced another exponential growth, with orders for medical gadgets, personal protective equipment (PPE), health supplements, and frequently accessible medications skyrocketing. High caseloads, along with  lockdowns, drove consumers to purchase online rather than visit online pharmacies, increasing sales by 25 percent to 65 percent.

According to EY, India’s online pharmaceutical market would expand to around $2.7 billion by 2023, up from $360 million in 2019. In India, e-pharmacies have grown in popularity in recent years, accounting for 2 percent to 3 percent of total medication sales.

Why online pharmacies are popular?

  • Reach and Accessibility: The most significant benefit that an online pharmacy provided was its reach not just in tier-1 and tier-2 cities, but also in remote areas. Combined with Tele-consultations, it provided immediate access to high-quality healthcare. Some e-pharmacies also increased their scope and now service at least 90% of the country’s pin codes. In distant areas, the delivery time might range between 7 and 10 days.
  • Convenience: Another huge benefit was the ability to have medications delivered to your door with the rescheduling option. Online in-app returns with specialized customer service acted as an extra bonus.
  • Affordability: By connecting a network of pharmacies to a single platform and gaining access to a larger client base, the entire supply chain became more efficient.  With the saved working capital, eliminated waste in the system, boosted margins, the drugs became cheaper for the customers. Due to the high volume, internet pharmacies provided substantial savings on medications by negotiating with the manufacturer.
  • One-stop shop: Because of the supply aggregation from multiple licensed pharmacies, internet pharmacies provided a variety of medications under one roof. People didn’t have to visit many chemist stores because e-pharmacies allowed customers to purchase any medicine with only a few clicks. 
  • Transparency: With complete tracking mechanisms and a robust technological backbone, each drug could be tracked directly to the channel/ manufacturer/ supplier, making the market much more transparent and assuring authenticity.
  • Discreet services: Because e- pharmacy is discreet, many patients liked to buy medications online. This method proved ideal for patients suffering from hair loss or other issues who weren’t comfortable sharing their prescriptions with anyone.

 Threats of online pharmacy

Given the fragmented nature of supply chain and the absence of large retail or distribution chain in India, poses challenges of inefficient practices and substandard technology infrastructure. Despite the numerous benefits, several experts claimed that one-fifth of the drugs supplied through internet pharmacies are fake. These medications can have different active components or none at all. As a result, the medicine ingested substantially raises the chances of severe drug responses or even overdose. 

Furthermore, when purchasing medication from international online pharmacies, there is a possibility that the drug was made with little concern for patient safety, and that it was compromised with hazardous chemicals or adulterants. Since most internet pharmacies do not demand the presentation of a prescription, there are risks to ordering medicines without consulting the doctor leading to addiction.

Conclusion

There’s no denying the fact that online pharmacies have proved to be a blessing during Covid because of the numerous benefits that it offered. However, we also saw that it led to fraudulent behaviours when not controlled. Hence, there is a need to raise awareness about the hazards of self-medication and to discourage people from buying medicines from unknown and illegal websites. In the case that a pharmaceutical is unavailable, one should seek medical counsel rather than self-medicate.

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