Medically Approved

How do I know if my online pharmacy is safe?

3 minute read
Woman at computer visiting an online pharmacy

Licensed online pharmacies follow strict safety guidelines. Here’s what to look for when you get medication online.

Lauren Bedosky

By Lauren Bedosky

Buying medication online can be a safe, convenient and secure experience. There’s no driving, waiting in line or hustling to make it before closing time. Yet many consumers are still wary of online pharmacies.

To keep you and your family safe, it’s important to do your research. Here are 4 key qualities you should look for in an online pharmacy.

Quality #1: It’s licensed and accredited

Your first order of business is to verify that the pharmacy is licensed through the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) and with a state board of pharmacy.

Only a U.S. state-licensed pharmacist can legally fill a prescription, so make sure that the pharmacy has a licensed pharmacist on staff.

Check that the pharmacy is accredited, too. Accreditation isn’t required by law, but it indicates high quality and safety, says Joshua Bartelme. He’s a product lead for the Optum Store. When a pharmacy gets accredited, it undergoes a rigorous process of detailed organizational review by a third party.

Pharmacy services through the Optum Store are accredited by the NABP for Digital Pharmacy and the Utilization Review Accreditation Commission (URAC) for Mail Service Pharmacy. “URAC in particular is a high bar to cross,” Bartelme says. Any pharmacy that takes the time to receive a URAC accreditation is serious about quality and safety.

Red flag: Look on the pharmacy’s website to find an NABP certification. If you can’t find one — or the certification link doesn’t take you anywhere when you click on it — steer clear, Bartelme says.

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Quality #2: It requires a prescription and safety assessment

Certain medications must be prescribed by a medical professional. But it’s up to the pharmacy to ensure that those prescriptions go only to people who are cleared to use them. That’s why any legitimate pharmacy will ask for a prescription before dispensing a medication.

It will also ask about your health history. “Consumers might be surprised at how frequently their health status can change,” Bartelme says. For example, maybe you recently added a supplement to your routine. This can interact with a prescription medication and cause problems. Updating that information when you fill a prescription can help keep you safe. Your pharmacist will reach out to your doctor to update your prescription if needed.

Red flag: It’s illegal to dispense certain medications without a prescription from a qualified health care provider. If an online pharmacy doesn’t ask for a prescription, it’s not a legitimate pharmacy.

You should also be concerned if it doesn’t request any details about your health history. “How can a pharmacy know if it’s safe for you to take that medication if they don’t ask about your health history?” Bartelme asks.

Quality #3: It offers 24/7 support

Questions about your medications can pop up at any time, day or night. You may need to check on side effects, dosage or drug-to-drug interactions from taking multiple medications. That’s why it’s key to find an online pharmacy that gives you access to a licensed pharmacist whenever you need help. Though the Optum Store, pharmacists are always available to answer questions.

Red flag: With an online pharmacy, you have no way to see someone in person if there’s a problem. So it should be easy to get in touch with a licensed pharmacist by phone if you have questions or concerns about your medication. If the pharmacy makes it difficult to locate its contact information or doesn’t respond to your messages, it may not be legitimate.

Quality #4: It’s in the U.S.

Check that the pharmacy has a physical address and phone number in the U.S. Not only does that ensure you get your medications delivered sooner, but it may also be safer. “The U.S. government regulates a lot of things, and we don’t necessarily know what the regulations are in other countries,” Bartelme says. All prescriptions ordered through the Optum Store’s pharmacy services are delivered from locations within the U.S.

Red flag: The online pharmacy is in another country.

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