With more than half the world under a lockdown, it has been difficult for people to venture out to the shops even for buying essential commodities. Though medicine shops are being allowed to open doors in many regions, people aren't that keen on stepping out of their houses at such a time. This has led to an increase in the sales of online pharmacies.
As more people are trying to stay indoors for as long as possible, they are turning towards online pharmacies in order to get their important medicines delivered right to their doorsteps. In fact, so many people are now using online pharmacies that many of the big names are planning to hire more employees to cope with the demand.
PharmEasy, for example, has seen an unprecedented increase in sales and is planning to hire 1500-2000 people over the next 2-3 months. The mere fact that these companies are going for a hiring spree amidst rising unemployment in other industries, shows that the need for online pharmacies has increased exponentially during the COVID-19 lockdown.
For people who are under strict lockdown, and for those suffering from any disease, online pharmacies are a boon. Not only that, but many companies have also been a source of great relief as people are able to purchase essentials like hand sanitizers and masks at a time of acute shortage. In fact, so many people are turning towards online pharmacies to buy masks and hand sanitizers, that the products run out of stock in a flash.
MedLife, for instance, has had to replenish its stock of hand sanitizers every eight hours ever since the lockdown in India has started. The increased sales have caused some problems as well. Online pharmacies in India were being used before, but not on such a wide scale. This sudden surge has led most companies scrambling to partner with local pharmacies in areas they had no presence earlier, in order to meet the nationwide demand. Due to the current scenario, there is also a crunch of manpower at the various checkpoints of e-pharmacies which has led to the medicines being delivered at a slower pace than before the lockdown period.
Online pharmacies have come in handy in another respect as well. They can store a lot of data about every customer's health status that can be used for remote tracking of locations that pose a potential threat of community transmission and areas that are on the higher probability to see an outbreak of some other disease. While remote-tracking through e-pharmacy data hasn’t become a popularised notion as yet, many believe that it will be an important technique of tracking future outbreaks once the current crisis blows over.
There is, however, a grave concern when it comes to e-pharmacies with regards to the fact that over90 Lakh retail pharmacies in India are unorganized and are known to supply medicines without requiring any prescription. Many of these pharmacies have seized the opportunity and become a part of the online pharmacy system. These pharmacies don't check the validity of the order they receive, nor do they ask for any prescription. This can often lead to consumers asking for medicines without any medical consultation that can be fatal for them. This issue needs to be resolved by making it compulsory for all pharmacies to meet certain basic standards before they become a part of the online market.
Proper guidelines are still missing
As of now, the laws regarding the sale of drugs online are not well structured. There is an abscess of any proper guidelines which could lead to dangerous trends developing in the future. While big companies like PharmEasy will be forced to maintain standards due to their larger reach, smaller and new companies can easily bypass the present guidelines without many repercussions.
There needs to be a serious discussion as to what guidelines must be forced upon the online pharmacies so that they meet industry standards. There are some existing laws that are enforced which detail how the companies can get their license, the areas in which they can operate, and what kind of drugs they can deliver to the customers. However, these guidelines need more details.