Are online pharmacies clinically appropriate for patients?

Are online pharmacies clinically appropriate for patients?
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Online pharmacies in Great Britain are now required to follow updated guidance from the pharmacy regulator to protect people getting medicines online.

The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) has strengthened its guidance for pharmacy owners to help ensure that people can only obtain medicines from online pharmacies that are safe and clinically appropriate for them.

25% of people are likely to use online pharmacies

Online research by YouGov commissioned by the GPhC found that 25% of people say they are likely to use online pharmacies in the future, but 50% of those unlikely to do so have concerns about the safety of online pharmacies.

After considering feedback from the sector, patients and the public to proposals published last year, the GPhC has introduced further safeguards for patients and the public.

To ensure medicines are clinically appropriate for patients – online pharmacies will have to make sure of the following safeguards:

  • Antimicrobials (antibiotics)
  • Medicines liable to abuse, overuse or misuse, or where there is a risk of addiction and ongoing monitoring is important. For example, opiates, sedatives, laxatives, pregabalin and gabapentin
  • Medicines that require ongoing monitoring or management. For example, those used to treat diabetes, asthma, epilepsy and mental health conditions
  • Non-surgical cosmetic medicinal products, such as Botox.

These safeguards include making sure the prescriber proactively share all relevant information about the prescription with the patient’s GP after seeking the patient’s consent.

Further safeguards to be wary of

In the case of medicines liable to abuse, overuse or misuse, or when there is a risk of addiction and ongoing monitoring is important, the online pharmacy should have checked that the GP has confirmed to the prescriber that the prescription is appropriate, and that monitoring is in place. In cases where a patient does not have a GP, or a regular prescriber, or if there is no consent to share information and the prescriber has still issued a prescription, the online pharmacy should make sure the prescriber has made a clear record setting out their justification for issuing the prescription.

  • Transparency and patient choice – pharmacy owners will have to supply more details about where the service and health professionals involved in prescribing and supplying the medicine are based and how they are regulated, so people have enough information to make an informed decision about using the service and can raise concerns about the service if they need to.
  • Regulatory oversight – pharmacy owners working with prescribers or prescribing services operating outside the UK must take steps to successfully manage the additional risks that this may create, including assuring themselves that the prescriber is working within national prescribing guidelines for the UK.

Duncan Rudkin, Chief Executive of the General Pharmaceutical Council said:

“We support pharmacy services being provided in innovative ways, including online, as long as the services are safe and effective for people. But providing pharmacy services online carries particular risks which need to be successfully managed.

“People can be put at serious risk if they are able to obtain medicines that are not appropriate for them. We are now putting in place this updated guidance with further safeguards to protect people.”

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