ne of the progressive technology models, which have evolved in the last few years, is telemedicine that has enabled accessibility to the finest doctors at the tap of a button. Another recent innovation that has positioned itself as an attractive model in the healthcare space is e-pharmacy. However, the question is, if this model is here to stay?
Today, the health space is completely dominated by multiple intermediaries/ middlemen, many of whom take advantage of the fact that consumers don’t have the information at their disposal. Consequently, they are forced to follow blindly. An informed consumer will change the game,” says Prashant Tandon, managing director and co-founder of 1mg.com, one of India’s leading online pharmacy start-ups.
What is e-pharmacy: Myths and Misconceptions
Broadly three models of e-pharmacy/online pharmacy exist in the market today. It is very essential to know the difference between these three because often people misunderstand one with the other.
1. Organized e-pharmacy: There are two models which operate in this category. One is a market place model where a technology company connects neighborhood licensed pharmacies to the end user. Other is an inventory-based model where e-pharmacy is an online service of an offline licensed pharmacy.
Every order that is received is pruned and checked by a team of registered pharmacists. Orders requiring a prescription medicine are checked for a valid prescription. Without a valid prescription, the medicines are not dispensed. The medicines are dispensed by registered pharmacists in a tamper proof pack. With the most advanced technology aligned with their processes, they could keep track of each and every order. These steps can prevent self-medication and drug abuse, two major issues today. In addition, they provide important information (side effect, precautions etc.) about the drugs to the consumers,” informs Tandon.
2. Non-organized e-pharmacy: In this model, prescription medicines are ordered without any validated prescription. There is no check on the genuineness of the order due to the absence of qualified pharmacists. Also, improper record keeping and no audit is a major area of concern.
3. Illegal international trade through e-pharmacy: In this model, drugs are shipped across the international borders without any prescription and approval from the concerned authorities. This is generally used to order cheaper version of drugs like Viagra.
These three models have been misunderstood and used interchangeably. There is a lack of clear-cut guidelines around e-pharmacy which would help the public to differentiate between a genuine organized player and an illegal unorganized player. The European Union has issued a common logo for legally operating online pharmacies/retailers in the EU member states as one of the measures to fight against such pharmacies.
Similarly, the e-pharmacy concept has been specifically notified in many of the largest economies. Therefore, “it is only pertinent for India to have certain rules for e-pharmacies. With the right government intervention we can reap the rewards of technology through organized e-pharmacy channels,” said the industry experts.
How e-pharmacy is beneficial to customers
An online pharmacy can effectively address multiple issues the Indian healthcare consumer and system face.
1. Consumer convenience: The consumers would be able to order medicines in a convenient manner, from their mobile or computer. This will significantly help patients who are already sick and not in a condition to go out to find a pharmacy
2. Consumer access: Online platforms can aggregate supplies, making otherwise hard to find medicines available to consumers across the country. Offline pharmacies can only keep limited inventory, resulting in a consumer having to ask multiple stores to get his or her medicine
3. Consumer education: Online pharmacies have the technology infrastructure to provide value-added information to consumers, such as drug interactions, side effects, medicine reminders, and information on cheaper substitutes. The more aware consumers will always benefit from the power of knowledge, which is easily distributed through the electronic medium.
4. Data records: All medicine purchases can be tracked – effectively reducing the problem of drug abuse and self-medication.
5. Medicine authenticity: With full tracking systems and solid technology backend, counterfeit medicines can be traced back to the channel/ manufacturer/ supplier, thereby making the market a lot more transparent and ensuring that authenticity is strictly maintained.
6. Transaction records: Organized online players would have systematic records for all transactions, with full taxes paid on each transaction. A great benefit to the state considering the size of the market
7. Data analytics: Online pharmacies can store and analyze large amounts of data on consumers across the nation which can be very useful for planning public health policies
8. Industry sustainability: An online pharmacy model will enable existing pharmacies to start online operations and serve a broader set of customers, or a network of pharmacies integrating to one platform and accessing a broader customer base while also ensuring that the inventory is consolidated. “This would reduce working capital requirements, remove wastage from the system and increase margins, making the pharmacy model sustainable and higher value add,” says Tandon.
E-pharmacy is well aligned to objectives of national development
According to industry experts, an online pharmacy aligns very well with national development objectives and has a clear and tangible benefit to consumers as well as the industry. Across the world, it has been seen that the growth of e-commerce and retail are complementary and reinforce each other. Traditional brick and mortar retailers also innovate and strengthen their operations by leveraging e-commerce to reach more consumers.
The small sector of organized pharmacy retail in India would get a huge boost and a full industry can be transformed by leveraging the internet in a smart way. Besides, Internet-based transactions are well aligned to address key known issues in pharmacy retail – tracking for authenticity, traceability of medicine, abuse prevention, addressing consumption of drugs without prescription, tax loss and value added services for consumer empowerment in healthcare, which are all key areas of national development. Besides, this would also enable doctors to adopt e-prescriptions in a big way – addressing the significant issue of errors due to a misreading of doctors’ hand writing as well as the recording of data for public health planning.
Industry experts say it is, thus, the right time as a country to define the regulatory framework to help e-pharmacy have a clear-cut operating model, in line with the concerns of the regulator, while providing benefits to the customers.
Merchant Accounts for Online Pharmacies in Canada, India, US, and the UK
Online payment processing is the most important need of any business which works through websites. A 2016 report by the Centre for Safe Internet Pharmacies (CSIP) found that at any given time there are between 30,000 and 35,000 online pharmacies in operation and that they will account for $75 BILLION in sales this year alone.
Online pharmacies offer patients the convenience of ordering their prescription medications without having to make an extra trip to a physical pharmacy. In addition, for patients who do not have prescription drug coverage, ordering their medications online can save them quite a bit of money, However, in order to achieve that or to process credit card payments online, you need an online payment processing service or merchant account. An online payment processing center can boost your sales by providing solutions to accept payments from your customers anywhere in the world.
Why are Online Pharmacies Considered High Risk?
Despite the obvious profitability of online pharmacies, they continue to be classified as high-risk businesses by banks and merchant account providers. The reasons behind the classification are many and varied and include:
Almost all online pharmacy transactions are Card Not Present (CNP)
Although some online pharmacies accept other additional forms of payment, credit card and debit card transactions make up the bulk of their sales. Because these orders are placed online or by phone, neither the cardholder nor the debit/credit card is physically present at the point of sale. Card Not Present transactions make it harder to verify the identity of the cardholder, and so there is more risk of fraud and chargebacks.
Online pharmacies are highly regulated and scrutinized In order to protect consumers, legitimate online pharmacies are subject to a number of restrictions and regulations that they must follow if they want to sell prescription medication online. At a minimum these include:
- The online pharmacy has to be licensed or otherwise recognized as a pharmacy in the jurisdictions where they ship drugs to
- Medications should be sourced from the same country in which the pharmacy is based since shipping prescription drugs from one country to a customer in another country is generally considered illegal
- A valid prescription from a doctor is required for non-OTC (over the counter) medications
- Controlled prescription drugs such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, and others cannot legally be sold online – with or without a prescription
- In the US and Canada online pharmacies are often required to have a licensed pharmacist on staff
Many online pharmacies – even some of those claiming to be US and Canada based – either operate offshore or they source their medications from offshore manufacturers. With regulatory requirements more relaxed than those for US and Canadian pharmacies, the risk of patients receiving counterfeit or expired drugs is significantly increased.
Many online pharmacies are operating illegally The unfortunate truth is that in the wake of the profitability of legitimate online pharmacies, illegal pharmacies have sprung up seeking to grab their share of profits. In fact, in a recent survey of 11,000 online pharmacies that sell prescription drugs to U.S. consumers, only 1 in 25 was in compliance with U.S. laws and pharmaceutical practice standards. Making matters worse, the World Health Organization estimates that over half of the medications purchased from these illegal online pharmacies are counterfeit.
Does this mean that all online pharmacies are suspect? Of course not. But the fallout from the illegal online pharmacies has cast a shadow over the entire industry. iPayTotal Can Help You Get an Online Pharmacy Merchant Account
Do you operate an online pharmacy in Canada, India, the US, or the UK? Our merchant services experts have helped online pharmacies like yours increase sales by enabling them to accept credit card, debit card, and even eCheck / ACH payments online.iPayTotal is the best online payment processing company for non-profits, pharmacies, gaming, and all other related businesses labeled as high risk.