New Delhi: The new Modi government is looking to plug loopholes in doctors issuing e-prescriptions as part of its efforts to regulate the online sale of medicines in India.
An e-prescription or e-Rx is one that is sent electronically by a doctor to a patient. It is generally considered error-free and legible, unlike the handwritten prescriptions where chances of errors or modifications are high.
In India, however, e-pharmacy apps allow users to merely upload a snapshot of a prescription as opposed to the electronic version. This practice has raised questions on the authenticity of prescriptions being sent to e-pharmacy outlets through mobile apps.
The issue was discussed at a high-profile meeting on 10 June, chaired by secretaries and joint secretaries from the Ministry of Health, Department of Pharmaceuticals along with the top officials of the Niti Aayog, the Drug Controller General of India and drug commissioners.
“In a takeaway from the meeting, we may define the format of the prescriptions that could be used for placing orders at e-pharmacies,” said a senior official from the Ministry of Health who was a part of the meeting.
“Various stakeholders have found this to be a grey area. The chemist associations, such as the AIOCD, have found various prescriptions to be fake, tampered or modified or repeated prescriptions,” he said.
“It is a serious concern which, if not regulated, could be exploited at e-pharmacies.”
The AIOCD or the All India Organisation of Chemists and Druggists is the country’s largest chemist body representing over eight lakh pharmacists.
The government is planning to define ‘e-prescription’ under the draft of the e-pharmacy regulations.
Online pharmacies currently do not fall under the ambit of any existing law and are temporarily working on the principles of their brick-and-mortar counterparts. The Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO), the national regulatory body for medicines, is working on finalising the draft rules that were released by the health ministry in September 2018.
“We will understand the present laws in the developed countries and their format of designing online prescriptions,” the official quoted above said. “The final policy could incorporate the definition of e-Rx.”
E-prescriptions have proved beneficial for patient safety across the world. According to the United States health department, e-prescriptions, adopted in 2003 under the Medicare Modernization Act (MMA), have reduced medication errors in the country.
In Europe, the use of electronic prescription is counted among the strategic steps to improve health care. Countries such as Norway, Sweden, Belgium, Italy, England, Scotland and Denmark also use e-prescriptions on a regular basis.
Regulating hazardous medicines
The government is also working on the list of drugs that cannot be sold online. While the government plans to bar narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances, the medical bodies, including the India Medical Association, chemist associations and the Gujarat Pharmacy Council, have asked it to extend the list.
In the meeting, the government has deliberated on barring the other hazardous categories including the Schedule H and Schedule H1 drugs.
“We are considering to regulate the list of drugs that could be sold online,” the official said. “However, it is a critical subject and discussions are going on.”