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Firm Support for Online Prescriptions

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Is it safe to purchase prescription drugs over the Internet? A new study of some of the most popular online medications — drugs to treat erectile dysfunction — concludes an e-prescription system operating under state regulation may actually be safer than the traditional method of obtaining drugs: a doctor's appointment followed by a trip to the pharmacy.

Using a database of Utah residents, researchers led by Mark Munger of the University of Utah examined 1,000 medical records of patients seeking treatment for erectile dysfunction from 2001 to 2005. Half of them received the prescription in person from a physician, while the other half used an online service.

Writing in the August issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings, the researchers concluded that the online system “outperformed the traditional system in most of the safety variables tested.” Those variables included the number of inappropriate presecriptions (which was essentially equal for the two systems), how often the prescribers used a diagnostic tool called the International Index of Erectile Questions, and the amount of patient education provided along with the pills.

The e-prescription system proved particularly potent on the latter issue. 100 percent of online clients received written product information from the manufacturer, and more than 75 percent also received individual electronic messages tailored to their specific needs. In contrast, nearly 52 percent of those who received prescriptions directly from a physician received no instructions on usage.

Before you rush off to another site to score some Cialis, take note of the study’s one important caveat: The prescription provider in question was regulated by the State of Utah.

“The State of Utah entered into a consent order with KwikMed, an Internet prescribing company, to permit e-prescribing of erectile dysfunction drugs under the Utah Practice Act,” the researchers write. This oversight ensured that “the welfare of the users remained paramount, that acceptable standards of care were consistently maintained, that properly supervised physicians and pharmacy personnel adhered to ethical conduct, and that monitors had constant access to Web site records while the users’ confidentiality was maintained. Further, patients are provided direct access to the State of Utah for concerns through the website.”

Whether unregulated online companies would provide this level of service is highly questionable. Thus the researchers’ conclusion: “We recommend that state regulatory agencies consider the regulatory model of oversight protections implemented by the state of Utah to license Internet prescribing companies.”