Online pharmacy or internet pharmacy is the practice of dispensing medical prescriptions through the internet. The order is sent to the patient through an online web portal, mails, door-to-door delivery services, and shipping services.
The doctor prescribes the drugs, the patient will have to submit the prescription to an online pharmacy through their portal. The pharmacy verifies the authenticity of the prescription sheet, and if valid, sends the medication to the patient. A phone call between the pharmacist and the patient is also necessary.
In every country, all legitimate online pharmacy businesses must be licensed by the regulatory body and local authorities.
Online pharmacy makes it easier for patients to retrieve a prescription and receive the medications even when in another country. This is possible as far as the prescription is genuine and follows the regulation of the country.
It is also much cheaper for patients in some cases.
Different methods of delivery
- Express courier services to deliver drugs to patients’ doorsteps.
- Shipping of drugs using insulated shipping containers for temperature sensitive drugs.
Online Pharmacy practice in different countries
Online Pharmacy In Nigeria
Though the practice is growing in Nigeria, the regulation of online pharmacies by regulatory bodies such as PCN is not documented. The Pharmacists Council of Nigeria (PCN) has continued to frown at the practice, but not much has been done to regulate it.
In the UK with over 390 online pharmacies, the GPhC (General Pharmaceutical Council) is responsible for the regulation of online pharmacies otherwise called distance selling pharmacies. They must meet their standards and maintain standard protocols.
The National Health Service (NHS) also adopted the online pharmacy model to fill prescriptions.
US and Canada
In Canada, online pharmacy is regulated by the Canadian body, the National Association of Pharmacy Regulatory Authorities (NAPRA) and in the US by its counterpart National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP).
The major issues with online pharmacy
There are big issues with online pharmacy practice. The problem of regulation and control of the sector with many illegal pharmacies springing up daily. The United States has through the FDA, in several operations closed down many of such sites. Now the verification of online pharmacies is done by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) in the US. They use the VIPPS program and LegitScript.
Internet Pharmacy practice also has posed serious competition to community pharmacists who don’t have much online exposure. They depend on physical visits to their pharmacy premises. The Association of Community Pharmacists of Nigeria (ACPN) has been advocating for the closure of online pharmacies in Nigeria.
The practice of online pharmacy has also reduced pharmacists to more or less online vendors. Pharmacy practice has evolved over the years to a more patient-focused approach. Pharmacists are supposed to provide a wholesome pharmaceutical care service and counseling to patients. Online pharmacies have reduced such interactions and relationships with patients.
The improper handling of drugs and control of temperature during drug delivery is also an important issue. Some drugs that require cold temperature might be subjected to high temperature during shipping.
Counterfeit and adulterated drugs can also be purchased through an online pharmacy.
Due to the lack of proper regulation on the internet, many fake online pharmacies without real identities might be set up by criminals. They might dupe or deceive patients.
Controlled drugs can be obtained illegally through some of the internet pharmacies.
How to be Safe while Purchasing from an Online Pharmacy
- Check the address listed in the website of the online pharmacy and verify using map or asking for directions.
- Try the phone number and email address to make sure it is real.
- Verify the licence of the online pharmacy by going to the official website of the pharmacy regulatory body of the country and find out if it is real.
- Some countries such as Canada and the US have online portals where you can access this information. Only pharmacy outlets can acquire a .pharmacy domain name.