It should be a fair statement that pharmacy is the backbone of the healthcare industry. Whether it is consultation, diagnosis, treatment or post-treatment care, the pharmacy has a compulsory role to play. It has a grip on the state and growth of patient care and any happening in this sector has a cascading effect on over healthcare sector.
There have been significant developments in Indian pharmacy sector in recent few years and this looks to be continuing for now. There has been a growing health awareness among people. Increasing incomes and family sizes and changing healthcare needs are shaping the healthcare infrastructure in the country. This, in turn, has been paved the growth-path for the pharmacy market and due to this, the pharmaceutical sector has been witnessing a consistent growth over the years. Furthermore, as the adoption of health insurance among Indian population rises, the pace of this growth is certain to increase. According to the Indian Brand Equity Foundation data, the pharmaceutical market in the country stood at ₹ 10,029 crore which was a year-on-year growth of 9.5%. IBEF also expects India to be one of the top three global markets by incremental growth and sixth largest global market by size. The numbers clearly are impressive.
A few recent shifts
Lately, people have started to shift their preferences from unorganized retail pharmacies and e-pharmacies to organized stores owned by large pharma companies. They offer much better convenience, infrastructure, drug availability, home delivery, drug consulting, nursing services and most importantly – a 24/7 access. With an efficient supply chain and distribution network, these pharmacies are able to bring their costs down and pass on these benefits to their customers in terms of cash discounts. Moreover, in tier 1 and 2 cities, several pharmacies have corporate tie-ups and provide additional discounts to the employees. Organized pharmacies surely hold a strong advantage over the unorganized stores.
Advent of e-pharmacies
One of the revolutionary developments in the India pharmacy space is the arrival of e-pharmacies. They bridge numerous gaps existing in the traditional pharmacy model, especially unorganized. According to India E Pharmacy Market Opportunity Outlook 2024 by ResearchAndMarkets.com, there are over 8,50,000 pharmacy retails stores which can only serve 60% of the total domestic therapeutic demand.
They offer a range of benefits which could only fit one’s imagination before. A few of those benefits are as below –
- Purchase convenience
- Patient privacy
- Time saving
- 24/7 access
- Availability of drug not available in physical stores
- Purchase records
- Authenticity of drugs
ResearchAndMarkets.com’ 2024 outlook also states that at present, online pharmacies only contribute to 1% of the total pharmaceutical sales in the country. This means there is a big market waiting to be penetrated.
Regulations in the pharmacy market
Pharmacy sector in India is well-regulated and both traditional and online pharmacies have to abide by them. They are required to have a retail or wholesale drug license from Central Drugs Standard Control Organization. A physical pharmacy must have the minimum area, air-conditioning and refrigeration, and a registered pharmacist who is present at the time of drug-sale. For an online pharmacy, registration with a licensed traditional pharmacy or partnership with a licensed dealer is mandatory.
Indian regulations restrict the pharmacies, both online and offline, from selling drugs Schedule H and X medicines without a prescription or any drugs not approved by Central Drugs Standard Control Organization.
While in the view of growth in organized retail pharmacies and e-pharmacies, there are fair reasons to be optimistic for the Indian pharma sector, there still remain a few serious challenges.
Challenges with traditional pharmacies are:
- Stores generally are unable to follow ABC category of drug system.
- Unavailability of prescribed drugs is often an issue patients have to face.
- Added commissions of distributors make drugs costlier.
- Commission-based selling practices focus on high-margin drugs rather than what needs to be in the store.
- Despite regulations, many pharmacies employ unqualified pharmacists which poses a threat to a patient’s health.
Possible issues in online pharmacy system are:
- Patients unknowingly may end up purchasing drugs from an unlicensed pharmacy.
- Among several malpractices associated with online pharmacies is the sale of illegal, counterfeit or expired medicines.
- Patients or buyers may tend to miss out on hidden costs.
- There is a certain wait involved before the ordered drugs reach one’s doorstep. Online purchase is no good in case of immediate medicinal needs.
By and large, it only requires the fill the existing gaps and kill prevailing malpractices and the future looks bright. With the further rise of organized pharmacies advancements in e-stores, the pharmacy market in India is set to reach new heights in next few years. India already has a strong network of approximately 50,000 distributors using which, making drugs available to every household in the country does not appear to be a target unlikely to achieve. There are several potential players coming up and working in this direction. eHealth, which is one of the leading players in this space, also looks to address all the challenges with its innovative and value-added services. It boasts of its state-of-the-art portfolio which includes low prices, qualified pharmacists, smart inventory control and real-time support to the patients, and through this, eHealth targets to redefine pharmacy system in India.