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E-pharma wants a budget with reforms that keeps up with innovation

As healthcare takes strides towards digitisation, the e-pharma industry hopes for Government support to streamline electronic records, make healthcare affordable and give a boost to startups.

Pradeep Dadha
4th Jul 2019
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On July 5, the online pharma industry will be eagerly awaiting Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s presentation of the Union Budget 2019-2020 - one of the most important markers of the economic growth of the country. According to an EY Report ‘E-pharma: Delivering Healthier Outcomes,’ Indian e-pharma players are expected to reach a combined market size of $2.7 billion by 2023. Evidently, this decade mark the formative years for the Indian epharmacy sector. The retail pharmaceutical sector was valued at $25 billion in FY17, and is projected to grow at a CAGR of 15 percent to reach $59 billion by 2023. This is an opportunity for regulators to bring clarity and stability to the nascent e-pharma industry, and allow it to flourish.


Pharma

Expectations are also high as startups hope for revised tax reforms and policies to further strengthen Digital India. With around 460 million active internet users in the country, and fast adoption of digital products and services, optimists believe that Narendra Modi’s second term as Prime Minister will further improve the ease of doing business. India, currently ranked 77th in the Ease of Doing Business ranking is now aiming higher, eyeing the top-50 list. The Prime Minister has already made tremendous strides towards smoothening bureaucratic hurdles, and we are hopeful that this budget offers scope to innovate with complete support. 


Digital healthcare: Need of the hour


According to the McKinsey: Digital India Report 2019, India averages about 2.2 medical professionals (doctors, nurses, midwives etc.) per 1,000 people. The concentration of hospitals and healthcare facilities is still restricted to urban India. Findings show that 60 percent of Indian hospitals are in cities. Shortage of quality healthcare is particularly acute in rural areas.


These challenges have found a viable solution with digital disruptions in the health-tech domain. The Government needs to work hand-in-hand with health-tech companies so that innovations such as online medicine delivery, tele-medicine, electronic health records, chronic disease management platforms, etc. are at the forefront of a digital health revolution in the country.


This will also create a favourable environment for entrepreneurs to push these innovations to remote corners. Currently, the regulatory environment is not at pace with the innovations in the health-tech domain. This can only occur when there is ease of doing business. We eagerly await the passing of the draft regulations on e-pharmacies. This will ensure that underserved rural and semi-urban areas get the much-needed medicines and healthcare services. 


The Government, in accordance with private players, can bring about a transformative change, making healthcare affordable and accessible to all. With ever-increasing healthcare costs, the revolutionary generic drug substitution norms set by the Government will play a pivotal role in lowering public healthcare costs.


One patient one record - The future of health


The concept of an electronic health record (EHR) and ‘One Patient One Record’ model will bring about a paradigm shift in healthcare, especially in rural India where access to medicines, trained and licensed healthcare professionals is a tremendous challenge. 


Accurate, up-to-date patient profiles help healthcare professionals make effective diagnosis, thereby reducing the risk of errors. The lack of an EHR, especially in rural areas where most patients are unaware and uneducated, can seriously hamper medical diagnosis. This data-driven approach will also help various stakeholders, such as the Government, health insurance companies, hospitals and pharmacies make informed decisions with tools such as digital prescription records, automation of insurance claims, doctor accountability tools, digitised claims and accessing the benefits of government schemes such as the National Health Protection Mission (Ayushman Bharat).


Removal of angel tax


The Indian start-up ecosystem is growing rapidly. In the first six months of 2019, there has been a record influx of $3.9 billion from venture capitalists into the start-up pool. However, India’s ever-expanding pool of entrepreneurs in the tech industry face tax burdens regularly. To create a conducive environment, the government must further reduce or eliminate the tax burden for early stage startups so that they can focus on tech innovations and growth.


When it comes to the start-up ecosystem, the government had earlier provided some relief to early-stage startups with the relaxation of Angel Tax. Yet, the industry still believes that complete elimination of Angel Tax will help this fledgling sector benefit further. The quick implementation will in turn facilitate fundraising activities for healthcare/health-tech startups.


Ground-breaking technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning have the power to transform this sector in the next decade. As the industry faces a sudden growth spurt, thanks to health-tech innovations, the right regulatory atmosphere and legal framework will give the challenging landscape of Indian healthcare, a new lease of life.


(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)



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