How to e-tackle antibiotic resistance?

How to e-tackle antibiotic resistance?

India, with its high propensity for infections, has fallen prey to antibiotic resistance. Antibiotics are used, rather abused in needless situations, like common colds or diarrhea. While some efforts have been made by the government, academicians and professionals to stop its misuse, there’s a long way to go. Antibiotics, the foundation of modern medical practice, may become ineffective such that even minor-infections and surgeries could prove fatal.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi shared his concerns regarding the overuse of antibiotics in his monthly address to the nation on his radio programme ‘Mann Ki Baat’ a few days ago. He has urged people not to take antibiotic medicines without a doctor’s prescription as it will lead to problems for the individual as well as society at large.

Public attitude towards proper use of antibiotics is a matter of concern — a 2011 WHO study reveals that 53% of Indians take antibiotics without a prescription. The sad part is that this behaviour is not restricted to rural or tier III regions, but is prevalent in urban and tier II cities as well. Except for narcotics, most other drugs are available over-the-counter in India without proper checks on their sale and usage. This rampant use of antibiotics, eventually contributes to resistance.

Patients’ habits play a role too, as instead of completing a course of antibiotics, they stop once the symptoms fade and therefore the remaining bacteria develops resistance. As per a 2011 report of the Indian Journal of Medicine, drugs are prescribed in incorrect doses and duration. Some prescriptions given are redundant while some have the potential to interact adversely with other drugs.

It’s not just a question of a significant amount spent in the making of a new antibiotic drug. It is about the time spent in research, study and patterns so as to make it ready for human consumption and treatment. Developing new antibiotic may not be cost effective, therefore due to the lack of availability to the masses, it could result in a demand supply failure. The gap created is the beginning of an epidemic.

Given this scary scenario, digital prescriptions prove to be an apt solution to the menace. It removes obscurity from all levels by enabling right medicine for the right patient in the right amount. Prudent use of antibiotics is vital for preventing the emergence and spread of resistance, which the e-pharmacies do by creating a digital medical record of the patient’s medicine consumption. Following are the direct benefits by embracing the e-pharmacy model:
nIn the e-prescription model, every transaction is recorded and tracked. There is no possibility of medicines being sold without prescriptions, and this can easily be audited and verified.

nDispensation is done by a registered  pharmacist and from licensed pharmacy premises.
nThe e- prescription that is a  part of IIPA, does not even allow sales of Schedule X  and habit forming medicines through the platform.

nThe e- prescription model is best suited to enable drug recalls as there are records of every transaction with the patient’s name, address, telephone number and email. They also ensure all sales are recorded by batch number, expiry with proper invoice and by a licensed Pharmacy.

According to a report ‘E-Pharmacy in India: Last Mile Access to Medicines’ by Frost & Sullivan, e-pharmacy improves consumer convenience and access. This will most importantly benefit elderly patients with chronic medical conditions living in nuclear families, and patients who are not in a condition to go out to find a pharmacy. E-pharmacy also offers competitive pricing, which thereby enables less affluent people to afford medicines. There are a lot of technology advancements that are coming up in the form of applications, which help in bringing price transparency, create awareness, find an appropriate healthcare service provider, medicine reminders, and pregnancy alerts to the consumers.

In addition, e-pharmacy models are well aligned to address key known issues in pharmacy retail for tracking 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. This model also increases entrepreneurship and in turn accelerates wealth creation in the country. 

E-pharmacy is one of the technology advancements that is about to create a huge demand in the upcoming days. In today’s world, when most of the products and services are conveniently being delivered to the consumers’ doorstep, there is a huge demand for access models that help patients and consumers avail the convenience of medicine delivery without having to leave their homes.

With the use of technology and access to inventory of multiple stores at a time, e-pharmacies can aggregate supplies, making otherwise-hard-to-find medicines available to consumers across the country. “This will significantly help patients who are old and sick, and not in a condition to go out to find a pharmacy, as well as the rural population where there is limited presence of retail pharmacy,” said Jayant Singh, Director (Healthcare and Life Sciences), Frost & Sullivan.  

The report noted that since e-pharmacy is only technology advancement, it is recommended that this model should be allowed and its benefits should be made available to the Indian consumers but with sufficient safeguards and under stringent regulatory control to protect the interest of the consumers.

The implementation of a fool-proof e-pharmacy model needs to be based on four guiding principles: Orderly growth of ecommerce in India, Model that best serves the following consumer interests, should be adopted: – patient safety; proper access to medicines; authenticity; business must operate on a level playing field with same rules without selective bias; positive business models / entrepreneurship should be enabled and encouraged, while players who try to take short cuts / violate the law should be brought to book.

(The author is Co-Founder, PharmEasy, an intermediary platform that helps users identify and connect with local pharmacies.)

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