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Urgent need for future-ready digital health system in India: FICCI

India needs a future-ready digital health system and it has become even more urgent in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, a whitepaper released by industry body FICCI said on Thursday.

E-Pharmacy provides a building block for such a digital health ecosystem to ensure efficient and affordable universal health coverage, it added.

“The need for a future-ready digital health system has become even more urgent with the COVID-19 pandemic. A strong health system must have a strong and resilient digital backbone,” the whitepaper said.

Speaking on the occasion, Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare Ashwini Kumar Choubey said: “The pharmacy services through e-commerce have been notified by the Home Ministry as essential services during COVID-19. The e-pharmacy model can work effectively with the government’s common service centres (CSC) aimed at improving access to essential healthcare facilities in rural India.”

Addressing the webinar on the release of FICCI Whitepaper,  ”e-Pharmacies at CVOID-19 Frontline: Fighting the Odds. Serving the Nation”, Choubey said technology played a crucial role during the pandemic and ensured the supply of essential items including medicines.

“The overall essence of these circumstances is that the importance of technology and digital infrastructure to deliver affordable and quality medicines and health services to consumers across the country has clearly emerged,” he added.

There is a need to bring innovation in the digital health platform with the use of technology to provide best services to the citizens, Choubey said.

FICCI e-pharmacy working group & co-founder 1mg Prashant Tandon said the nascent e-pharmacy sector in India was fortunate to be in a position to serve the citizens during the time of lockdown, ensuring access to medicines across the nation.

“We look forward to working with the government and having clear and enabling guidelines to move this sector forward and unleash a wave of innovation across the healthcare delivery ecosystem,” he added.

In a similar vein, FICCI secretary General Dilip Chenoy said there is an urgent need to nurture this promising sector with the right set of policy frameworks and guidelines in order to provide the benefits that the sector fosters for the consumers.

Highlights of the FICCI Whitepaper include:

  • There has been a shift in demand towards for at-home access to medicines during the COVID 19 pandemic. There was approximately 2.5x growth (about 8.8 million) in the number of households using e-Pharmacy services in the COVID-19 lockdown period. There was a higher representation from the non-metro cities, compared to pre-COVID-19 households.
  • Approximately 70%+ consumers cited satisfaction with the initiatives undertaken by e-Pharmacy platforms during the COVID 19 Pandemic. It is estimated that the e-Pharmacy penetration level is likely to reach ~1.4x of its pre-COVID-19 household estimates by FY25. ePharmacy in India will be able to tap approximately 70 million households by FY25.
  • The lockdown also led to significant change in consumer behaviour towards consulting doctors, as hospital OPDs and clinics became unsafe and risky due to chances of contacting the disease. Approximately 50%+ consumers reported a decline in face-to-face doctor consultation during the pandemic.
  • The Union Home Ministry, vide order number 403/2020-D dated 24th March 2020, specifically mentioned delivery of medicines through e-commerce as an essential service. This led to 19 state governments declaring e-Pharmacy essential during COVID-19 lockdown.
  • The Indian e-Pharmacy market has already been the investor’s choice pre-COVID, as it saw approximately $700 million investments flowing in during FY 20. The recent investor sentiment is also quite positive towards the sector, led by the organic adoption of e-Pharmacy during the COVID period.
  • The e-Pharmacy model operates in full compliance and harmony with existing laws. The draft rules have been prepared after extensive multi-stakeholder consultation over the last five years and have been recommended by DTAB recommended for finalization of the draft rules (Drug Technical Advisory Board), along with multiple Courts directing the Government to notify the e-Pharmacy Rules. The e-Pharmacy Draft Rules will provide sector specific e-commerce regulations with an aim to harmonize existing laws/guidelines like IT Act, D&C Act and Rules etc.
  • India currently has 50+ e-Pharmacy platforms employing over 30,000 people. These platforms are expected to become the government’s key partner in enabling various social health initiatives and there is a need to notify the e-Pharmacy draft rules. A simple and clear regulatory path will help unleash the potential of technology for improving access to affordable and quality medicines.
  • The FICCI e-Pharmacy Working Group has supported the industry to come up with a ‘Code of Conduct’ for e-Pharmacies in the country. It is committed to working with the government for ensuring that patients across the country have access to quality and affordable medicines and healthcare through a very efficient supply chain. The need of the hour is for the government to consider the importance of digitization in healthcare to empower consumers and notify the Draft e-Pharmacy Rules at the earliest.

MB Bureau

 

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