Online medicine stores can’t keep inventory, have to source from offline retailers


The Health Ministry has revised draft regulation asking online medical stores or e-pharmacies to partner with offline retail pharmacies to only deliver drugs to consumers and not stock medicines.

The change in the draft regulations also does not allow e-pharmacy to stock medicines. The new changes in draft regulation have come after vehement protest from offline pharmacy retailers who argued that easy availability of drugs could be misused, said an HT report quoting health ministry official.

Online pharmacy can operate only through retailers and delivery at doorstep facility will also be extended to the brick-and-mortar pharmacies, said the official.

Two months ago, the health ministry had consulted public and sought suggestions from retail pharmacists over the impact of online pharmacies on their business.

In October, Defence minister Rajnath Singh, commerce minister Piyush Goyal, health minister Dr Harshvardhan and Gajendra Singh Shekhawat had held a meeting to draft new norms to regulate the online pharmacy business.

As per initial draft released last year, e-pharmacy were allowed to sell medicines and asked to retain prescriptions and verify details of patients and doctors. At the same time, it barred the sale of narcotics drugs and tranquillizers.

Online medicine retailing, which is still at a nascent stage, is estimated to be around 1.5-2% share of the total pharmaceutical market, which is expected to reach $55 billion by next year.

At present, about 8 lakh retail pharmacies and wholesalers are registered in India. Close to over 40 startups including Netmeds, 1mg and PharmEasy, sell medicines online in India.

For last one year, e-pharmacy has been facing a tough time. It is tangled with litigations across multiple high courts- Mumbai, Delhi, Madras, Calcutta, and Patna citing ban on e-pharmacy has not helped the cause.

In December 2018, Delhi Court had banned the online sales of medicine after Madras Court ruled to ban the same. Though, Madras court vacated its order later. The Delhi HC ban still lingers.

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