Regulate online sale of drugs in India, say experts

Indian Medical Association warns that data generated from online visits and sale could be sold to other websites or hospitals

By Kundan Pandey
Published: Thursday 18 June 2015

Regulating the online sale of medicines has become a priority for India’s drug regulators. The government is considering launching a pilot project to regulate their sale in a state equipped with proper regulation mechanism, said Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) G N Singh on Wednesday.

Speaking at a Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) event in Delhi, Singh said regulators’ bodies in the US, Japan and the UK are also in the process of setting terms for regulation of online sale of medicines and that India could lead the effort.

All states are scheduled to participate in a meeting of the drug consultative committee to be held soon.

Vaijanath Jaguste, treasurer of Maharashtra State Chemists and Druggists Association (MSCDA), said, “We are still talking about regulation and online sale of drugs has already begun.” He explained that pharmacists are concerned because online sale will destroy the level-playing field. “We have very limited margin over drugs. If these online sites start offering rebate and concession, it will be tough to compete,” he added.

K K Aggarwal, secretary general of Indian Medical Association (IMA), highlighted another challenge. He said that data generated from online business could be misused. Websites may use data to sell luxury items to people who visit online stores for costly medicines. They may even sell the data to hospitals and doctors, he warned.

While the Supreme Court has ruled that doctors cannot give consultancy on phone, except during emergencies, the attempts to use technology to render medical services has also not taken off.

B R Sikri, vice president of Northern Zone Bulk Drug Manufacturers Association, cautioned against hurry and said that since medicine sale is a “life-saving” industry, all partners and consumers must be taken on board before finalising any regulatory model.

It should be noted that though the online drug sector is still at a nascent state, it has seen unprecedented growth in 2014. The country’s e-commerce market will grow from US $2.9 billion in 2013 to over US $100 billion by 2020. E-commerce is increasingly attracting customers from Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities where people may have limited access to brands but have high aspirations, says FICCI in a report prepared for the event.

The business body recommended that the government encourage this industry to abide by self-regulation pharmaceuticals guidelines so that the channel is used optimally for its penetration.

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