The Limits of Internet Pharmacy Self-Regulation

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The advancement of technology can often bring about some truly interesting loopholes in existing laws and regulations. For example, thanks to the international nature of the Internet, it is considered nearly impossible for any real-world authority to effectively police the online contingent of any given industry. For example, the vaunted casino regulatory boards of the US have no jurisdiction on the Internet, simply because they can’t touch an operation that isn’t based in the US. The same holds true for virtually all online industries, which means that most of these companies have to rely on self-policing to keep their own under control and within a certain reasonable limit. With that in mind, what is the Internet pharmacy industry doing to regulate itself and protect consumers?

Naturally, consumers are free to try and tell if an Internet pharmacy is legitimate or not. However, while some sites are merely the online versions of real-life pharmacies, others are not. Some websites, particularly the ones that are selling medication that is obviously illegal, are clearly of suspect nature. Most websites, though, are of uncertain pedigree, with no reputation or obvious signs to help a customer figure out whether or not she’s walking right into a scam. This is where something like a regulatory board can be helpful, as most online business regulatory organizations provide compliant websites with badges that signify that the site is legitimate and can be trusted. However, there is no single, clear authority of this sort for the Internet pharmacy industry, which can make things slightly difficult.

Prescription verification is among the many steps that a legitimate Internet pharmacy might take to give themselves the image of being a trustworthy company. Since a number of online establishments sell a variety of prescription-only drugs, several of them have systems in place to check and verify for a prescription with every order. Others go a different route, offering ways for a person to have an impromptu, informal “consultation” with a doctor to obtain a prescription online. These methods typically take the form of online questionnaires, though consultations over the phone and through webcam are also becoming available. While the online consultation approach is just as legitimate as any other, it is recognized as having a potential risk of incorrect diagnosis and prescription.

So far, there have been regulatory and registry boards for the Internet pharmacy industry, but there are still issues that need to be addressed. First is the question of jurisdiction, because the pharmacies are from different countries and most of the organizations that serve as regulatory boards are typically based only in one country. This limits their administrative powers for pharmacies that are based outside their home country, as well as bringing in questionable legitimacy to their authority over pharmacies based in their country but conduct business internationally, or on the outside. Thus far, the Internet pharmacy industry has not managed to come together to form an international governing and regulatory body, though some industries have done this before.

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