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Your Online Drugstore

By Archana Khambekar

Pharmacies have set up shop in cyberspace to serve customers electronically, a convenience that could save you a trip to the neighborhood drugstore. You can now order your medications online with a click of the mouse and have them delivered right to your doorstep.

How Cyber-Pharmacies Operate
In order to take advantage of this service you need to establish an account with the online drugstore. By logging into your account, you can track orders, refill prescriptions, send and receive messages and update your personal data. The first time you order medications you are asked to create a health profile of existing medical conditions, known drug allergies and medicines that you may currently be taking. This safety measure alerts the pharmacist to potential drug interactions or other health risks.

As regards the prescription itself, you can have your doctor call it in; alternatively, you can mail or fax it to the pharmacy. You can transfer a prescription from your current drugstore by furnishing the pharmacy's name and phone number. On processing your prescription the pharmacy notifies you via an email. It is pertinent to mention here that unlike their brick and mortar counterparts, online pharmacies take longer to process a prescription. If the prescription has been mailed, you have to allow additional time for the pharmacy to receive it. As a returning customer of the pharmacy, it takes just a few clicks to order a refill since the prescription information is already in place. If you are wondering about the cost of this convenience, some cyber-pharmacies do not charge for standard deliveries of prescription items. Delivery time ranges from three to five business days. If you prefer that medications be shipped overnight, that can be done too, but at an extra charge.

In addition to medicines, online drugstores stock a range of over-the-counter health aids, personal care items and beauty products for the one-stop shopper. Furthermore, in a bid to provide a better shopping experience pharmacies have added perks such as a personal shopping list of your favorite or often used products, e-mail reminders of refills and rewarding customers with free gifts and bonus points redeemable at airlines, car rental agencies, hotels etc.

Some e-pharmacies are more than cyber counters dispensing medicines; they are a valuable source of information for the health conscious customer. They have added an "Ask the Pharmacist" feature to enable you to consult their licensed pharmacist about your medication concerns. A visit to these sites will give you an idea about their service and interactive tools.

Drugstore.com: In addition to fulfilling your needs for health and wellness products, you have access to an A to Z drug index listing medications, directions for their use, known side effects and necessary precautions. The comprehensive set of FAQ's make this an ideal pharmacy for the first-time shopper.

PlanetRx.com: An easy to navigate pharmacy that has an inventory of prescription and OTC medications, supplements and medical supplies, plus click rewards for frequent shoppers. The site links you to health channels for in-depth information on specific diseases, medications and alternative treatments.

Rx.com: Behind the simple interface is a pharmacy that efficiently delivers medications, healthcare products and provides quality content. The reference desk brings you health guides, drug factsheets and an index of natural remedies. The site also features a health magazine that you can read online.

A Prescription for Safety
The corner drugstore is still the logical place to shop for your medication needs in emergencies or when you cannot wait for mail deliveries. Online drugstores undoubtedly render a useful service, particularly for chronic sufferers who have to make multiple trips for refills or for customers who live some distance away from their pharmacies. Nevertheless, there are some red flags that you need to be vigilant about before you log in to fill in your prescription.

The Web provides anonymity to unscrupulous individuals to set up seemingly professional and legitimate outlets for their illegal products or unethical practices. Some dubious sites based in foreign countries lure customers by selling prescription drugs at prices cheaper than in the domestic market. Patients who buy medicines from such sites expose themselves to the risk of dangerous side effects from drugs that could be contaminated, past their date of expiration, or not approved for use in the United States. Hence the importance of being a cautious consumer cannot be emphasized enough. To protect yourself when buying your health products online here are some safety guidelines that you should follow:

  • Shop with sites affiliated with reputed drugstore chains such as cvs.com or drugstore.com, which is associated with Rite Aid.

  • Find out if the pharmacy is certified by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. The association has a "Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites" certification program that requires compliance with stringent standards. Sites that meet their requirements bear the VIPPS seal.

  • Verify that the online pharmacy is a licensed pharmacy in your state or that it is licensed to deliver medications to residents of your state.

  • Steer clear of sites that do not require a prescription or sell prescription medicines on the basis of an online questionnaire purportedly reviewed by their physician. According to the American Medical Association dispensing drugs on the premise of a cursory questionnaire is hazardous and unethical. By avoiding a visit to the doctor's office you are compromising your health, as a physical examination is advisable for an accurate diagnosis.

  • Avoid sites that do not provide access to a registered pharmacist to answer your questions.

  • Do not buy medicines from sites that do not have an U.S. address and phone number that customers can contact.

  • Be wary of sites that advertise miracle cures or remedies that are medically unsubstantiated.

In addition to these precautionary steps, carefully peruse the pharmacy's policies on insurance coverage, product returns, and confidentiality of information.

Internet pharmacies often advertise discounts and promotions on products and promise to save you money on your prescription costs. As for how they compare with your traditional pharmacy, it cannot be conclusively said that purchasing drugs online is cheaper. While it may cost less to buy some medicines at cyber-pharmacies, your local drugstore may offer a better bargain for other medications. But it takes less effort to surf over to a couple e-pharmacies to find the lowest price. For an objective evaluation of online drugstores on a variety of criteria from cost comparison, ease of navigation to health resources, stop over at the e-commerce authority site Gomez.com. You will also learn from the experiences of other e-pharmacy customers. Be an informed consumer when you pay a visit to your drugstore on the Web.

Also see:
The eyes have it -- relieving eyestrain
Finding solutions to those sleepless nights

Archana Khambekar is a freelance writer of informative articles on the everyday life applications of Internet technology. She is also a Contributing Editor at Suite101.com and can be reached at archk@suite101.com.


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