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Tushar Kumar

Tushar Kumar is Founder at Medlife International Pvt Ltd.

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Is India Ready for the e-Pharma Revolution?

India is still in the nascent stage of the digital revolution, at least as far as the pharmacy industry is concerned. According to The Associated Chambers of Commerce of India (ASSOCHAM), the pharmaceutical sector is poised to grow to USD 55 billion by 2020, from the USD 28 billion currently.

Digitisation is not just a corporate buzzword, but a way of life in a quaint country in the Baltic region of Northern Europe called Estonia. Promoted by the government as a cost-saving, efficient and equalising force, everything – from elections and banking to education and healthcare – in this innovative digital society, with a population of 1.3 million, works in a virtual, transparent and secure manner. A recent article in The New Yorker described how the automated system works so seamlessly that private enterprises are now building on the ubiquitous Estonian government platform named X-Road. Interestingly, the neighbouring Finland has also started using X-Road, paving the way for a “novel internationalism”.

These are exciting times. Countries across the globe are waking up to the untapped promise of digitisation. And with the Digital India campaign, India too has taken up on the challenge of becoming a digitally-empowered nation. But then, is it possible for a country to become digitally empowered without taking the healthcare industry – not just the hospitals and medical practitioners, but also the pharmacies - into the virtual fold? The Draft Pharmaceutical Policy 2017, prepared by the Department of Pharmaceuticals, talked about numerous measures to bring the industry on par with its global counterparts – except digital transformation.   

Emerging market

According to the latest market reports, the global e-Pharmacy industry is expected to register a massive growth, from a valuation of USD 29.35 billion in 2014 to USD 128.02 billion by 2023. While the US and Europe are undisputed market leaders, experts predict that emerging economies such as China and India will play a key role in the development of the Asia Pacific region.

Being on the frontlines of the healthcare sector, pharmacy has the potential to be a real game-changer. Especially in a country like India, with a dismal ratio of 0.7 doctors per 1,000 people. e-Pharmacies venture beyond the domain of its traditional counterparts - not only by offering convenient drug delivery options at discounted costs (thanks to the elimination of long distribution channels), but also by ensuring easy access to medical advice and crucial data regarding the composition, benefits, and side-effects of drugs.

The idea is to develop integrated online platforms that can solve the inadequacies of the healthcare delivery system through technology. Is it possible to gain access to healthcare services at all levels - starting from recording and storing clinic visits and prescriptions, to ordering medicines online,
e-consultations with doctors, and scheduling diagnostic tests?

Experts concur that the future of medicine is more personalised and predictive, wherein the needs of individual patients will be dealt with data-driven precision. With advanced data analytics that looks at online medical records, medication history, genetic dispositions, etc, it’ll be possible to identify the best line of treatment and predict how each patient will respond to it.

However, to deliver personalised patient care, we need to endure the learning curve. e-Pharmacies can bring strong data organisation, technical expertise and real-time responsiveness to the table. Nonetheless, for that to happen, the government needs to create a conducive growth environment for the industry. There’s need for a comprehensive policy that addresses current realities, while making the necessary regulations to ensure that online pharmacies are in compliance with patient safety standards.

Global trends

Governments across the world are increasingly using the latest technology to create better healthcare outcomes. For instance, Germany is working towards developing an electronic health card for every person in the country, while Sweden’s e-health strategy focuses on the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) to assist patients, health professionals and decision-makers.

Given that pharmaceutical care is an integral part of healthcare, in the UK, the NHS National Programme for IT is dedicated to four projects - an electronic system to book hospital appointments, a set of reliable, national electronic health records, a new broadband infrastructure, and e-prescriptions.

Recent trends in the global ePharmacy market indicate that there’s growing demand for faster delivery of drugs even at remote locations, improvement of health information technology interoperability, and means to identify legitimate online pharmacies. To address the issue of credibility, the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) in the US had launched the Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (VIPPS) program way back in 1999. Still considered the gold standard for e-pharmacies, NABP believes that its .Pharmacy Program - requiring all VIPPS-accredited pharmacies to use a .pharmacy domain name - is the future of safe pharmacy and pharmacy-related services online.

India is still in the nascent stage of the digital revolution, at least as far as the pharmacy industry is concerned. According to The Associated Chambers of Commerce of India (ASSOCHAM), the pharmaceutical sector is poised to grow to USD 55 billion by 2020, from the USD 28 billion currently. The question to ask is: Will this benefit the common man? Not unless there’s a long-term vision for making healthcare affordable and accessible, a framework to ensure that digitisation of data will help the doctors as well as patients. Because Estonia was, certainly, not built in a day.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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