How e-pharma went from practical convenience to essential lifeline

Pradeep Dadha | Updated on April 11, 2020

A first-person account from a start-up on weathering the Covid-induced crisis

When we set out to create a new e-commerce-based healthcare platform, one that would leverage the vast reach of the internet and mobile apps, to offer information, consultations and medicine to even the most remote and rural regions, we knew we would be providing a much needed practical convenience.

But I don’t think any of us could have envisioned that ‘e-pharma’ would emerge as one of the country’s most important, critical and dependable lifelines in the battle against Covid-19.

The lockdown, although unquestionably the right move by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, still came as a shock as it represented a major disruption in lifestyle and work routine.

But to the millions of Indians already involved in battling chronic disease, the lockdown meant far more than just a disruption. It represented a challenge to not only avoid contracting the virus, but to also maintain one’s general good health by continuing regular consumption of prescribed medication.

The comfort such patients got from knowing that Netmeds.com and other companies like 1MG, Pharmeasy and Medlife are up and running, and delivering medicine has been, I believe, not only beneficial to people’s health, but also provided an element of “peace of mind” in these pretty troubling times.

The lockdown also came as a “gut punch” to businesses, but as we had been through a crisis-management exercise before, when the floods hit Chennai just months after we had opened for business, we had some experience with delivery breakdowns, and work-from-home (WFH) protocols. However, the fact remains that nothing was on the scale of a complete nationwide lockdown, so, like almost every business in the country, we too were scrambling for additional resources, like laptops and dongles.

But the most important resource in the WFH scheme is the ‘human resource’ and that’s where I believe our team has really stepped up. Everyone in the enterprise is keenly aware that we are an essential service provider and each department has gone far beyond the call of duty to help our customers get their medicine orders, or connect with doctors for consultations. It takes an incredible level of commitment to sit at home alone — when you are used to being in an office surrounded by your colleagues — and be just as productive.

In a business like ours, the important role played by delivery agents also came into focus. To grasp the enormity of what we were dealing with, picture this: On March 24, 2020, thousands and thousands of deliveries of much needed medicines that were packed and headed for destinations came to a screeching halt.

It took concerted and round-the-clock efforts by regulators and stakeholders to get the deliveries rolling again. We’re now able to deliver to more than 14,000 pin codes and we’re adding more each day. Likewise, replenishing inventories; even much-in-demand items like hand-sanitisers and face masks are back in stock.

As for medicine, it’s a good time to remind people who take medication regularly that if they run out of a particular brand, generics are a safe and effective alternative which most doctors will readily approve of.

Finally, I am certain that there are better days ahead and though it will take considerable time before things get “back to normal”, they will. Everyone has learned some hard and valuable lessons about resilience and the strength of the human spirit, and very likely we have, once and for all, answered the question of whether there is a need for e-pharmacies.


The writer is Founder and CEO of Netmeds.com

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Published on April 11, 2020

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