Tuesday 25 August 2015

Norms a remedy to rein in errant online pharmacies

 In the past two years, many companies have begun selling medicines through the e-commerce route. Many e-pharmacies connect the customer to the physical outlets and get the medicines home delivered, working on the 'marketplace' model, where they have sellers on board.

With no uniformity in the checks and balances by firms already in the business, guidelines are necessary as proposed by the national drug regulator that has formed a committee to look into the matter.

Many like Pankaj Gupta of Mera Medicare said there is immense potential in the online medicine sale sector and it is high time laws governing pharmacies are revised.

"There are certain rules that are very old, which need to be replaced with rules and regulations that are more aligned with the new, digital India," he said.

Online pharmacies have started gaining popularity due to the discounts they offer.

"Patients are able to save up to 60% on generic medicines and we have seen traction in other products such as bodycare items and baby products on our website," said Gupta.

The most medicines bought online are those required for chronic diseases such as blood pressure, cancer and diabetes. Other than these, contraceptives are also popularly sought online because of the facility of delivery options.

Most firms said they were aware of the Drug & Cosmetics Act 1948, and they did demand a prescription from buyers.

However, the interpretation of the IT Act and the Drug & Cosmetics Act differs among the players in this business. Customers seeking to buy medicines online are asked to send soft copies of their prescription, through email or Whatsapp.

"We cannot sign the prescriptions while dispensing medicines online as it is not possible as of now. Otherwise, we follow checks at two levels - at the seller's side and then at our side. But we do feel that guidelines are essential so that all online pharmacies follow one standard," says Rajkumar Popat, co-founder of Mera Pharmacy.

"Guidelines would enhance customer confidence and lead to more standardized operations by the players that are coming up," he added.

The prescription in most cases, is stored in their database and can be seen in the customer's account. Popat's firm is among those who also take care that every customer's personal data including prescriptions are encrypted and protected from being leaked.

Niranjan Reddy, cyber security expert, founder and chief technology officer of NetConclave Systems, says that section 4 of the IT Act legally recognizes electronic records, thus validating authenticity of a scanned document. But, in case of a legal dispute, an electronic copy cannot be presented in the court, as per the rules laid down in the Evidence Act.

He added that the online pharmacies should ensure that proper process is followed and customers are not cheated.

"Section 39 of the IT Act mandates that the intermediary observes due diligence while discharging his duties under this Act and also observes such other guidelines as the Union government may prescribe," he said.

As of now, the websites selling medicines online do not follow any standard protocol and include only what they feel is essential.

BuyDrug.com additional director Narendra Pathak said their website "does not have any separate security for prescriptions. But, they are quite secure as only pharmacists can access a customer's details and prescriptions."

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