Some facets of our life slip seamlessly between the online and the physical world. Whether it’s booking tickets to a show and flashing your QR code at the door of the venue or perusing the menu of your favourite local restaurant, placing the order and having it delivered to your door shortly after. It’s hard to spot a disadvantage with most of these technological tools.
For this reason, it’s no surprise that pharmacies have also gone increasingly online. However, your health and the relevant medication you may require are a little different to the burger you might have a hankering for late on a Friday night. Unquestionably, there are benefits to the option of an online pharmacy, which we will explore in detail but there are a few things to be aware of, which can help put your mind at ease when exploring the online pharmacy option.
Australia Regulation of the Online Pharmacy Sector
There are currently no regulations expressly directed at online pharmacies. Having said that, many of the existing requirements applying to physical pharmacies also apply to those operating online and the physical pharmacy sector is subject to strict statutory regulations. Some important requirements to be aware of are:
- Pharmacists must be registered in the State or Territory in which they are operating and their premises must also be registered and approved.
- Dispensing of certain drugs without a prescription requires the pharmacist to establish a therapeutic need for the medication. It certain instances the pharmacist is required to counsel the consumer on its use, which obviously favours a physical purchase.
- In the case of prescription-only medicines the presentation of an original physical prescription, hand signed by a doctor with a current Australian provider number. Online pharmacy options in this situation may include posting the prescription to the pharmacy, or, alternatively, handing the prescription to the courier in exchange for the medication.
- States and Territories vary but some prohibit dispensing medication if the prescription is not from a registered doctor in that State or Territory. This can restrict an online pharmacy when seeking to fill a prescription from outside its jurisdiction. Furthermore, strict restrictions exist around the export of prescription drugs, with them only being able to be taken or sent overseas for personal use. For this reason, some online pharmacies refuse to accept orders for prescription drugs from outside of Australia.
- Strong restrictions exist around advertising prescription drugs in traditional media but the position in relation to internet advertising is less clear. Basic restrictions around advertising within the bounds of the Therapeutic Goods Act still apply but more specific rules are still yet to be applied.
As the points raised above suggest, online pharmacies are not without their pitfalls. Many operate in countries with very little regulations, making them prone to fraudulent behaviour, which can put not only your finances at risk but also your health. Being an educated consumer is critical to stamp out fraudulent practices and to protect yourself when buying medication online. Start by verifying the authenticity of the service provider as well as the product. A red flag is if the site sells prescription medication without requiring a legally recognised prescription. As mentioned above, much like good physical pharmacies, a good online pharmacy will have well established safety and quality benchmarks, with a transparent and verifiable physical address and pharmacist. The combination of an educated consumer and effective regulations can ensure that the benefits of an online pharmacy can far outway the negatives. So, let's look at some of the benefits in more detail.
Benefits of an online pharmacy
We have all waited in line at a pharmacy at some point in our lives. A counter congested with patients, each one’s needs more complex than the last. At the online pharmacy, the counter is always free and a pharmacist is always waiting to serve. Not to mention avoiding the hassle of finding a park outside your local pharmacy. Any challenges to mobility only heighten the benefits of the online option. Simply have your desired medication delivered right to your door and spend that extra time you gained doing something you love.
This has really got to be the online pharmacy’s strongest point of difference. Your sensitive medical information is your business. If you are suffering from a potentially embarrassing issue, such as erectile dysfunction or simply just hair loss, it’s not difficult to see the appeal of an online pharmacy. They are a fantastic resource if you are feeling uncomfortable discussing something face-to-face as it adds another layer of confidentiality to your medical needs. Embrace the online pharmacy and avoid awkwardness.
Unless you are a concession card holder or your medication is subsidised as part of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, medications, even prescription medications, can vary significantly in price. Much of this centres around the costs associated with a ‘brick and mortar’ style pharmacy, such as opening hours, rent and staffing costs. An online pharmacy çircumvents much of this and can pass on those savings to customers. Choosing an online pharmacy also makes it easier to shop around for the best price available, without having to drive all over town.
Physical pharmacies’ stock is often limited by the restrictions imposed by their location. High rents and limited floor space mean that the medication you are seeking may not be available at your local pharmacy. Online pharmacies can offer a much wider range of medications and as mentioned above, they are very likely to be at a lower cost.
Much like the way the internet has revolutionised the way we travel, shop, eat and well, just generally interact, the concept of the online pharmacy is certain to become increasingly common. Rather than fearing this shift to a more digital format, by educating ourselves as consumers we can avoid any of the potential pitfalls of the online pharmacy and reap the innumerable benefits that come from being able to access health care and health products conveniently and discreetly online.