Medicines at the click of a button

Apart from good discounts, e-pharmacies also offer value-added services

Visiting a pharmacy to buy medicines will soon become passé, thanks to the advent of online pharmacies. The advantage with online pharmacies is not just limited to convenience.Most online drug stores offer 15-20 per cent discount on an average.

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e-pharmacies online-only stores. Here, the order is placed online and the delivery is undertaken directly by the e-pharmacy. Prominent among these are Netmeds, 1mg.com, mCHemist, Medidart, Medlife and Pharmeasy. Second are offline stores such as MedPlus Mart that have also joined the e-pharmacy bandwagon.

MedPlus, for instance, is encouraging online booking by offering higher discounts to customers than in the physical store. Finally, there are a few portals that serve as a channelising partner. Vpharmacist, for example, helps you choose the medicines you require and place an order online. The order is then passed on to a pharmacist located close to the customer’s home who makes the delivery.

Products and pricing

Most online pharmacies offer a wide range of products. For instance, Netmeds not only sells prescription and over-the-counter medicines, but also offers wellness and personal care products. The portal also offers blood glucose monitoring device and strips.

Some of these portals such as 1mg has dedicated sections for alternative medicine categories such as Homeopathy and Ayurveda, apart from allopathy.

A few portals offer other value-added services such as sending reminders to customers for reorder medicines. For instance, Aermed also enables customers to maintain medical records such as prescriptions and medical reports etc in digital form and sends out purchase reminders once the medicines have been exhausted.

Interestingly, some of these portals also help you book diagnostic services through their platform. 1mg helps you search for the best deal across certified laboratories in your city. You can also book a free home sample pick-up and can access reports online. The portal also facilitates online consultation with doctors for free. You can also search for doctors nearby in case you prefer an in-person consultation.

As far as the pricing goes, for prescription drugs, the discount ranges between 10 and 20 per cent across e-pharmacy portals. There may be special offers on wellness products such as supplements and diagnostic devices. The discount rate can be much higher, at up to 40 per cent of the MRP. Some portals also offer discount based on the bill value. VPharmacist, for instance, allows 22 per cent discount on the first purchase and 15 per cent discount on subsequent purchases above ₹2,000.

How to buy online

One needs to first register by providing email ID, name and mobile number. Most importantly, you need to upload your prescription to be able to complete the registration and make the purchase. Once the customer data is verified by the portal, one can purchase only relevant dosage of prescribed medicines.

While you cannot buy prescription drugs that are not prescribed by the doctor, there is no restriction on adding other hygiene and nutritional products to your shopping cart.

Ordering medicines online will work best if you have stocks adequate to sustain you for a day or two. Given the process involved, buying medicines online may not be viable during emergencies.

Know the regulations

In 2015, the Indian Drug Regulator Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) asked state authorities to keep a “strict vigil” on online sales of medicines and take action against e-pharmacies that violate the provisions of the Drug and Cosmetics Act, 1940. In May 2016, there was a clampdown on five portals for violating regulation.

However, the Government seems to recognise the role of e-pharmacies in delivering affordable medicines to all and, hence, seeks to formulate a policy for e-pharmacies.

A final verdict on drugs that needs to be keep out of e-pharmacies is not out yet. Yet, a sub-committee of the Drug Consultative Committee has recommended that, drugs that fall under Schedule X, such as narcotic and psychotropic drugs should not be sold through e-pharmacies.

Given that regulatory guidelines could come through this year, it may be prudent to stick to players with established track record and not be swayed by fat discounts offered by new, unverified players.

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