Towards Ensuring Low Cost Healthcare
The recent directive by the National Medical Commission (NMC), asking medical practitioners to prescribe generic names to patients rather than the names of branded medicines, is aimed at lowering healthcare costs and improving access to quality healthcare. If implemented well, the practice of writing generic names will help thousands of underprivileged people in the country get quality treatment for various ailments at affordable prices. But before making this dream a reality, many hurdles must be crossed as doctors alone cannot ensure low cost treatment. There are several stakeholders in the medical industry such as retail sellers of medicines, pharma companies, etc., who also have to adopt the new policy. It will require a lot of effort to impress upon them the benefits of the new policy. Simultaneously, convincing people to use generic drugs will be a difficult task as many are used to and place trust in branded medicines. Thus, the effort of providing low cost treatment should not stop at issuing directives, rather an integrated effort should be made to create an atmosphere conducive to the sale of generic medicines. A change in perception and habit cannot be achieved overnight.
The NMC should dispel any fear from the minds of the people, conduct regular checks and ensure the quality of generic medicines. It must assure the people that generic medicines will work as effectively as branded medicines in curing ailments. Additionally, educational campaigns should be conducted on health and safety measures undertaken by producers. These necessary steps must be undertaken as the number of drug testing laboratories in India are limited and many are not well equipped to carry out required tests. Recently, many countries have raised alarms over the poor quality of Indian-made cough syrups, which have reportedly caused the deaths of many children. Pharmaceutical experts suggest that in-order to to avoid suspicion on the quality and effectiveness of generic medicines, bioequivalence studies should be done to highlight the similar responses seen in both generic and branded medicines.
Another obstacle may occur in making generic drugs available to the people as retailers of branded medicines may not be interested in keeping low priced medicines in their stores for fear of low profit margins. There is a possibility that retailers may still continue to push expensive branded drugs as doctors will become legally restricted from giving biased prescriptions. Moreover, many pharmacies in the country function without qualified pharmacists due to financial constraints, though the law requires otherwise. These salespeople work by experience alone and in the absence of proper knowledge may not deliver the right medicines. Thus, instead of hurriedly implementing the new code, the NMA should remove or minimise all obstacles to make this ambitious effort of providing low cost healthcare a successful one.