New Delhi: The Modi government is moving to legalise the online sale of medicines, which will allow consumers to buy medicines by just uploading scanned pictures or mobile phone screenshots of prescriptions issued by registered medical practitioners.
A top official of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, which is overseeing the project, said the government has ironed out one of the creases that had held back the scheme — the format for what constitutes an ‘e-prescription’.
“The final notification will define the meaning of an e-prescription, which is essentially a scanned picture or a mobile-phone clicked picture of a prescription issued by a registered medical practitioner,” the official said. “Earlier, the draft did not mention what e-prescription is.”
The official further said that the draft notification for the scheme has received government approval.
“The final notification is expected to come anytime within this month,” said the official. “The draft notification has already been approved by the top advisory body of the government, with only a recommendation to introduce a clause explaining the meaning of ‘uploading the e-prescription’ in the final notification on e-pharmacy.”
Legalising online sale of medicines in India is on the Modi government’s 100-day agenda since it returned to power on 23 May.
Status of the draft
For approval, the draft has gone through two committees since the return of the Modi government at the Centre and is now being readied for final launch by the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO), the apex body to regulate the sale of drugs in India.
The draft was first considered by the Drugs Consultative Committee (DCC) — an advisory body that recommends suggestions to the central and state governments and the Drugs Technical Advisory Board (DTAB) — on 1 June. It recommended that the draft should “include the provision for uploading the e-prescription”.
The DTAB then deliberated on the DCC’s recommendations on 11 June and “agreed for amendment of the Drugs and Cosmetics Rules, 1945, for the regulation of the sale of drugs by e-pharmacy and asked CDSCO to bring the final version of the notification to DTAB for review”.
Accordingly, the final version of the notification prepared by CDSCO was also placed before the DTAB for approval on the same day, which was cleared for final release right away.
“DTAB after detailed deliberations, recommended for finalisation of the draft rules considering the suggestions, comments of stakeholders,” said the minutes of the 11 June meeting.
The ‘e-prescriptions’ format
In the draft notification, issued by the government in August last year, the e-prescription format was not defined. In fact, the six-page draft mentioned the word ‘e-prescription’ just once under clause 67 of ‘procedure for distribution or sale of drugs under e-pharmacy’.
In section for definitions, the draft defined ‘prescription’ as an instruction from a registered medical practitioner to a patient, written by hand or in any electronic mode duly signed.
“In response to the draft notification a large number of comments have been received,” said the minutes of the meetings.
“All those comments highlighted the need to define e-prescriptions otherwise any piece of paper can be treated as valid,” said an official from the CDSCO. “We examined the laws in developed countries and their format of designing online prescriptions.
“We earlier planned for doctors to issue both a hard copy and a soft copy of a prescription where the soft copy could be forwarded to online channels,” he said. “This, however, required more time and creation of an entire eco-system. We are starting with this format but slowly we will move towards modern ways.”