Online pharmacies will be required to check patients’ identity
Author: Ingrid Torjesen
The pharmacy regulator has strengthened its guidance for online pharmacies and will now require them to verify the identities of patients they are prescribing medicines for, check medicines are clinically appropriate, and share information with the patient’s GP.
The raft of new requirements on online pharmacies to better protect patients seeking medicines online are outlined in ‘Guidance for registered pharmacies providing pharmacy services at a distance, including on the internet’ from the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC).
Online research by YouGov commissioned by the GPhC found that while 25% of people think they are likely to use online pharmacies in the future, 50% of those who said they were unlikely to do so have concerns about the safety of online pharmacies.
The guidance says that online pharmacies must check patients’ identity before prescribing medicines and suggests that NHS Digital’s identity verification and authentication standard which forms part of the new NHS login might be used. For this patients are required provide a passport or driving licence with photographic ID, as well as proof of address.
There will be additional safeguards for some medicines including antimicrobials; those liable to abuse, overuse or misuse such as opiates, sedatives, laxatives, pregabalin and gabapentin; those that require ongoing monitoring or management such as those used to treat diabetes, asthma, epilepsy and mental health conditions; and non-surgical cosmetic medicinal products, such as Botox. In these cases, online pharmacies will have to ensure the medicine is clinically appropriate for the patient and proactively share all relevant information about the prescription with the patient’s GP after seeking the patient’s consent.
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.
Duncan Rudkin, chief executive of the GPhC 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.
“I would strongly urge patients and the public wanting to obtain medicines online to only use online pharmacies registered with us, to protect their health. These pharmacies have to meet our standards and follow this guidance, so they provide safe and effective services, and we will be inspecting pharmacies to make sure this is the case.”