Our vision is to be the health partner for consumers whether be it product services, information and insights. We want to make healthcare affordable, accessible and comprehensible for consumers, shares Prashant Tandon, Founder & CEO, 1MG and President, Indian Internet Pharmacy Association (IIPA) exclusively with Kusum Kumari of Elets News Network (ENN)
How did the entire novel idea of Indian Internet Pharmacy Association (IIPA) came up?
When we started business, there was a lot of misinformation being spread about the online pharmacies. As of now, there are around 40 to 50 other e-pharmacies. For our kind of business models, we felt the need for a collective voice, which should be done by coming on a common platform to unanimously agree on the ways we are going to operate in complete compliance with the law and come up with a unified voice while talking to regulators, offline pharmacies and other stakeholders. We started off with 11 members and set tough criteria for membership, such as members of IIPA have to comply with laws stringently and they need to have a certain set of processes and guidelines on the basis of which they need to operate. In recent times, we have added just Frank Ross from Emami Group as a new member. In the name of e-pharmacy collective, we do not want people not operating in the correct and legitimate ways to get represented. Therefore, our members are very carefully selected. Currently, we are uating around 10 to 15 applications that are pending with us for membership.
What kind of screening procedures are followed by IIPA to check the authenticity of online pharmacies?
Firstly, we need to understand the operating model of our e-pharmacy. The operating model needs to have 100 per cent prescription compliance. All of us have to have fulfil orders only using the scanned copy of the prescription copies. Secondly, the medicines need to be dispensed only from the licensed premises. The final sale has to happen from pharmacies that have a Drugs and Cosmetics license. Thirdly, none of us operate in Schedule X medicines which include narcotics that are sensitive medicines. Overall, these are the mandatory requirements to be part of IIPA. Therefore, when a person applies, we conduct a bunch of preliminary checks on the models and also place orders to understand the systems in place. Another key requirement is that these e-pharmacies need to be based in India to enable monitoring of medicines, procedures and premises.
Several international bodies have also expressed issues over online pharmacies and are trying to build guidelines to overcome the challenges, such as fake medicines, spurious fillers, data theft, etc. Please share your opinion.
For this, the online pharmacy models currently operating in India need to be understood. As such, online pharmacies can operate from anywhere in the world. All the requirements mentioned by me earlier are based on the best practices followed across the world. In the United States (US) and Europe, post reflection what they figured was that in order to catch fake and poor-quality online pharmacies. The best way to do that is to first identify the right one and give them a special license. In the US and Europe, it was decided to register the domiciled online pharmacies with the regulator. Similarly, we recommended to the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) in India that even in India we should create a registry of certified online pharmacies, just to follow the best practices. Once that is done, all these online pharmacies need to show all licenses and certifications on their websites prominently. As a result, the consumers in these countries will know whether the particular online pharmacy is certified or not. Therefore, it is possible to track the violators by following this strategy. The menace is with the international trade of medicines without any control. Our model is the legitimate model of local delivery of medicines, which is applicable to all IIPA members. The online pharmacies is often misunderstood as international trade of counterfeit medicines as that too takes place through online platforms. The rules are fairly normalised and structuredin other countries. Our model is fully compliant with the current laws of India. However, we are recommending the regulator that we need to make it better to enable zero violation. We need to add more rules or values to keep the violators out of the market.
|IIPA Mandatory Screening Procedures|
|Understanding the operating model
Fulfil orders ONLY via prescription copies
Dispense medicines ONLY from licensed premises
NO sale of sensitive medicines under the category of Schedule X
Based in India to enable adequate monitoring
|Understanding Online Pharmacies in Indian Market|
|Follow best practices followed across the world
The online pharmacies is often misunderstood as international trade of counterfeit medicines as that too takes place through online platforms
Please throw light on one of your recent articles in which you have supported the entire Digital India campaign as a very democratising project that will enable access to knowledge.
In India and most developing countries, the biggest challenge is the lack of information transparency and lack of qualitative and affordable healthcare services. Therefore, we need quality, access, transparency and authenticity. Unfortunately, India as a country had not been able to deliver any of these essential values needed to provide cost effective quality care. A lot of people do not have access to information and basic healthcare. That is where Digital India campaign comes into the picture. All these gaps are possible to be addressed through technology. On 1MG platform, a consumer can see the cheaper alternative for any medicine and also the Jan Aushadhi generic.
For a consumer, we show them how on any medicine he/she can save 70 to 80 per cent. Therefore, even such a fact is not well-known to the customers. Even if the fact is known, people are not aware of the ways to get access to cheaper alternatives. Consumers do not have information and choice. The system has been purposely kept opaque. With Digital India, the entire scenario is likely to change. If the same customer has access to all the information, quality doctors and right medicines, then that consumer will have choice and then there will be competition to offer better services, as happens in any industry. The digital platforms can enable the realisation of the above. Technology has ensured a major shift in medical care by making it more patient-centric. We are quite optimistic as the government today at the central level is definitely doing a lot of progressive reforms. We are very hopeful that a lot of investment will take place in healthcare innovation.
Please tell us about innovative concepts and tools introduced in 1MG, such as smart prescription and my health feed, and also the idea of engaging in several public programmes?
At 1MG, we believe that a lifecycle view of the patient and data approach is critical to provide right solutions to the consumers. We wanted to create a platform to address all needs of the consumers in the most optimum and authentic manner. Therefore, we ensure that all medicines are tracked, traced and validated post testing from certified pharmacists. Currently, one of the biggest problems in the Indian market is that people fail to take medicines on time which leads to significant adverse impact in many serious cases; therefore, we also offer this simple digital tool called medicine reminder. As a result, we have seen a significant increase in the compliance level amongst the patients. Secondly, we have introduced My Health Feed, which basically collects all prescriptions in an organised manner in one place, to avoid carrying files of prescriptions during consultation. We are in the process of making it better in terms of digitisation. We are still in the early stage in terms of our long-standing visions. Smart Prescription digitises the prescriptions to understand medicines that cannot be taken together as they can cause medical errors. Currently, we are still finalising it. It will enable the customers to know about the medicines that cannot betaken together, possible side effects, alternatives to enable cost saving, etc. The digital reminder will be set up with the smart prescription to remind patients to have medicines on time. We also offer e-consultation platform to enable patients to interact with a doctor.
|Register the domiciled online pharmacies with the regulator
Create a registry of certified online pharmacies
All e-pharmacies should display their certificate/seal on their websites prominently
Creating a methodology to track the violators
What is your vision in terms of Indian healthcare?
Our vision is to be the trusted health partner for consumers whether be it product services, information and insights. We want to make healthcare affordable, accessible and comprehensible for consumers. This means that whenever a consumer needs anything for his or her healthcare, we want to have the correct supporting tech-enabled solution for that to enable consumer to easily manage their healthcare, whether in terms of access to right information at the right time, right services and consultation, adherence-based and compliance based tools, etc.
With so many digital health providers in the Indian healthcare sector, it is quite a challenging task to differentiate one from another. As a digital health provider, what is your key USP that differentiates you from others?
The competition is good as it assists us in enhancing our capabilities. Most of the other platforms focus on one part of the equation or the other, but we as an integrated platform bring everything together along with information and consultation. We believe that consumers will not like to have multiple apps for accessing different healthcare services. In most of the cases, all data is not available at one place for analysis. We invest a lot on data analysis to provide insights and right information, which is our key differentiator. All providers might look similar from outside, but its the details used in solutions that differentiate one from the other. We have also witnessed consistent and organic growth with no aggressive marketing. People come to us because we have emerged as the Wikipedia of Medicine for India. This happened because of a team of 35 professionals who work on data and qualitative content that is updated according to the changes. I fundamentally believe that the healthcare business is about building trust. We are addressing the challenges by constantly improving them. As such, the incidence of damages is very insignificant.