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Online logo validates bona fide pharmacies

The rapid rise of the internet as a convenient channel for would-be patients to acquire pharmaceutical products has led to a new safeguard

The rapid rise of the internet as a convenient channel for would-be patients to acquire pharmaceutical products that are discounted, or even unapproved for use through the NHS, has led to a new safeguard designed to help users distinguish bespoke online pharmacies from rogue outfits.

With the online sales of medicines booming, and seemingly increasing numbers of drugs being deemed too expensive by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) to be made available ubiquitously, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain has moved to protect those patients choosing to buy via the world wide web.

A pilot scheme is underway in the UK whereby authentic internet pharmacies can apply to be vetted by the Society, which on satisfaction that the services are genuine will then provide a logo for display to the public on the pharmacy website. This aims to help prospective buyers, a significant proportion of which are thought to comprise patients seeking the latest and most expensive anti-cancer drugs, avoid purchasing uncertified and even counterfeit medicines online.

ìThe Royal Pharmaceutical Society has recognised that the public increasingly is using the internet for obtaining goods and services and, by way of response to this rapid growth, we wish to ensure that if patients do wish to purchase medicines online that they can do so safely,î Lynsey Balmer, the Society's head of professional ethics told Pharmaceutical Marketing. ìWe also want to ensure that the same high standards of care are provided as when using a traditional high street pharmacy.î

There is a risk that the logo itself could be copied by illegally operating online drug providers, however the Society countered that the risk is balanced by the benefit to online purchasers and in any case clicking the logo takes the user directly to the Society's own register pages, where they can validate a particular pharmacy's credentials including the named pharmacist behind an operation.

However, some around the healthcare industry have pointedly not given their wholehearted support to the initiative, which may also serve to whet curiosity and intensify the burgeon of online self-prescribers. With NICE determining in recent months that a number of new anti-cancer products should not be made available through the NHS, some private buyers have simply bought the drugs online; Canada is understood to be a provider of several popular discounted medicines.

ìCancer drugs are extremely sophisticated and potentially dangerous, and, therefore, should always be given under close medical supervision. It is very worrying that patients may be purchasing medicines online to treat themselvesÖ [as it] could do them much more harm than good,î commented Professor John Toy, Cancer Research UK's medical director.

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society's Balmer noted: ìThe Society has always advocated the importance of face-to-face consultation with registered healthcare professionals and, certainly where there is this need, we very much believe that that remains the most important mechanism. [Online purchasing] should not in any way replace that.î

30th September 2008

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