Why do chemists hate e-pharmacies so much?

Last June, I wrote about the burgeoning online pharmacy business on this blog.

Taking off on a column that I had authored for the Indian Express, I pointed out that while India’s regulation of brick-and-mortar pharmacies (or chemist shops) has been slack, online pharmacies would be held to higher standards. That in the absence of a clear-cut legal pathway for online pharmacies to follow, friction with regulators could not be ruled out. And that these uncertainties would adversely impact e-pharmacies’ ability to raise funds from investors.

At a recent event organised by the Indian Internet Pharmacy Association (IIPA), it became clear that all this and more had come to fruition.

What intrigued me is that the e-pharmacy’s enemy number one appears to be India’s foremost chemist association AIOCD. IIPA members allege that they have had to endure regulatory harassment triggered by complaints from AIOCD members. These complaints have led to police investigations, regulatory raids, and the cancellation of licences of chemist shops supplying Internet pharmacies culminating in the IIPA openly accusing AIOCD members of instigating the administration to launch unnecessary probes against them. And of pressuring those chemists who do supply e-pharmacies to back off. Continue reading “Why do chemists hate e-pharmacies so much?”

Buying meds without prescriptions : wish more of us could?

-My domestic help keeps a two year-old (at least) prescription for a skin rash drug from her dermatologist neatly folded away.  The drug worked miraculously,  she says.  So the next time the rash raises its ugly head,  she knows what to use. And, she doesn’t have to go back to the doctor, take time off from work to wait outside his chamber, or pay his consultation fee.

-In the Mumbai suburb where I stay chemist stores routinely deliver prescription drugs to homes against orders placed over the phone.  Noone checks whether the customer has a valid prescription.  A good number phone in after they’ve been to a doctor just to avoid walking to the chemist store or to have the meds delivered home for a sick parent or child when they themselves are at office.  But I’m willing to bet that there’s a fair number of well-heeled citizens who don’t want to waste precious time outside their doctor’s cabins, or pay consultation fees either. Even they preserve prescriptions.

The truth is that from maids to mandarins nearly everyone in India pays out-of-pocket for medicine.  Besides, the crowds in doctors’ waiting rooms are testimony to the fact that while the patient community has grown at a fast clip,  the doctor population hasn’t kept pace. In India, there’s one doctor available for 1588 people. Everyone’s got to wait though noone wants to.

But the need to save time and money on healthcare is not unique to a developing country such as India, it appears. A recent 14,000-people survey in Europe by world’s top drug company Pfizer Inc., suggests that one in five Europeans or 77 million people could be purchasing prescription-only drugs without a scrip.  29 per cent of those surveyed say they bought over the Internet. The majority cited reasons of cost and convenience.  A relatively small number (less than 20 per cent) said they did so because the drug wasn’t available in their country.

Pfizer’s intent was to raise alarm bells on the potential market for counterfeit medicines being spawned by online purchases.  I’d like to view this problem through a different prism.

The world is moving faster than it ever has. Technology has made things so much simpler and easier. We can shop, and bank on the phone.  We can order our fav pizza.  Yet when it comes to healthcare people are expected behave like they’re still stuck in the last century.  This is unrealistic. Healthy people want things right here, right now. Why should sick people be any different? In fact, the imperative for convenience and cost is arguably greater when you need medical attention.

However strictly regulated the market people are going to find a way out, as Pfizer’s survey shows.

Instead of fighting this, or exhorting behavioural change, it’s time to find a reasonable way out.  Costs are not going to come down in a hurry, nor is the doctor population going to spurt overnight – these are necessary but longer-term solutions. But in the short to medium term, governments and companies should team up (perhaps even with technology players)  to figure out how to make the process of reaching quality medicines to people less cumbersome,  time-consuming and eventually less expensive than it currently is.  And the answer should go beyond putting more medicines in the over-the-counter category – a solution that is obvious but slow to implement. Fact is – like my maid’ example suggests – this is already happening.

Chew over this while I go get the door.  It’s probably the chemist’s delivery boy.