Soon, QR codes may become mandatory on drug packs

Maitri Porecha New Delhi | Updated on February 22, 2019

Move to pass on the benefit of fair pricing to the consumer   -  Getty Images/iStockphoto

But industry flags difficulties in implementing the exercise

All medicine packs will have to carry a unique quick response code (QR) come April. The Department of Pharmaceuticals (DoP) is likely to issue an order to this effect within a few weeks, sources said.

A QR code is a unique two-dimensional matrix bar-code which is attached to products to obtain information about them and track their origin.

The idea for QR coding medicines is two-pronged, said an official from DoP. “Firstly, the intention is to pass on the benefit of fair pricing to the consumer, and secondly, it is to track drugs so that the threat of fake medicines can be eliminated,” the official said.

The way this will work is as follows. When a customer goes to a pharmacist to buy medicines, the pharmacist will scan the QR code on the medicine pack and bill the customer according to the price reflected on the computer or mobile phone.

The DoP has been mulling creating a fair pricing system after the Supreme Court pulled up the government asking it to devise a mechanism, which will help pass on the benefits of decreased dynamic pricing of drugs to consumers, just in case the Maximum Retail Price (MRP) printed on the pack is higher at the time of the decrease.

The National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) collates price data of all formulations and brands so the QR code scanning can be linked to a software which will be supervised by the regulator.

In case the prices of drugs are revised by pharma companies, the information will have to be fed into the software. But the industry has been constantly flagging difficulties in implementing the QR coding instructions. The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) has also submitted a list of issues that the pharmaceutical companies will face as they take on the mammoth task.

Challenges ahead

“There are close to 60,000 brands and 6,000 formulations, whose data needs to be collated and updated as far as pricing is concerned and that remains a looming challenge to successfully implement the QR code project,” the official said.

Another huge challenge in implementing the QR code exercise will arise in rural areas.

“In villages, where there is hardly any Internet connectivity or electricity, scanning will not be possible. Also, if there is differential pricing for MRP and the QR code, which leads the consumer to pay a higher amount due to a possible error in data entry related to QR code, that can create trouble too. We are trying to sort these issues out on a war-footing, and an announcement is expected soon,” the official explained.

Published on February 22, 2019

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