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Can I get a doctor's prescription online?

Answered by Gabriel Levitt, MA | Reviewed by a licensed U.S. pharmacist | Posted October 24, 2019

Sometimes the hardest part of obtaining prescription drugs is actually getting a prescription. Doctor copays can be a real burden and taking time off work to get an appointment can be difficult. So, can you get a prescription online? The answer is yes, but with important caveats.

The practice of obtaining a prescription via the internet, without an in-person consultation, is commonly known as a remote consultation, or tele-prescribing, and is one aspect of the telemedicine. Telemedicine is essentially medical services obtained remotely, over a website or by phone. 

Bear in mind that, when it comes to prescription drugs, speaking to a doctor is almost always your best option. Speaking to a doctor in person may be more effective than chatting on the phone for a medical diagnosis that requires lab work, exams, or prior medical history. However, for low-level maladies, telemedicine has been a helpful advent, but, for a chronic condition or a life-altering issue, a doctor is always best. For minor ailments like the flu, colds, or viruses, an online prescription is easy to obtain. You will, however, have to consult a doctor online. The same goes for uncontrolled substances like birth control.

For so called “lifestyle” drugs—such as ones to treat erectile dysfunction, hair loss, or sexually transmitted diseases—people sometimes prefer anonymity. In the earlier days of the internet, this process of “online prescribing” was generally frowned upon. The conventional wisdom was (and in some cases remains) that it’s best to see your provider in person before getting a prescription. In those earlier days, rogue sites would pretend to offer consultations with licensed providers or the remote consultations, even with a licensed doctor, were insufficient for the task of prescribing a drug.

Today, the situation is much different. In particular, now that the big health insurance companies view it as a cost-saving measure, telemedicine is now widely used. More importantly, it is clear that qualified telemedicine websites provide an excellent alternative to a physical trip to the doctor. This acceptance of online prescribing applies to many regular prescription drugs, but not for a controlled substance. Also, a more urgent healthcare issue is a different matter entirely and should be dealt with in person.

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Online Prescriptions for Controlled Substances

For the most part, federal law bans online prescribing for controlled substances, meaning prescription drugs with greater potential for addiction. Examples of well-known controlled drugs are prescription opioids (Vicodin, oxycontin and fentanyl), benzodiazepines (Xanax, Valium, and Ativan) and amphetamines (Adderall and Vyvanse). And for good reason. In the early part of this century and continuing up to today, sales of addictive prescription drugs online without a prescription effectively led to the deaths of thousands.

In 2008, Congress passed the Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Protection Act, which effectively banned any website filling a prescription order for a controlled drug to patients based only on a remote medical consultation. Before the Ryan Haight Act, due to varying state prescribing laws, it was not clear what was permissible. The Ryan Haight Act solved this, and it also left an opening for properly-credentialed companies to remotely prescribe controlled drugs.

Under the Ryan Haight Act, a licensed practitioner, with a special exemption for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, could issue a prescription for a controlled drug based on a remote consultation. Essentially, that exemption was never an issue because the rules were not clear on how to obtain it. Last year, the Trump administration passed a law requiring DEA to issue those rules, which are still being drafted.

As the regulations stand now, you cannot lawfully obtain a prescription for a controlled substance, such as Adderall, Xanax, or Vicodin, without first establishing a relationship with a doctor or other licensed prescriber through a physical exam. That means if you look online for a website that prescribes and sells you controlled drugs, then it’s probably unsafe and almost certainly illegal. Keep in mind, while people are not prosecuted for buying and importing medication from other countries for their own use, including by ordering it online, although unlikely, they may face legal ramifications illegally buying controlled drugs over the Internet. For that reason, but more so for your own safety, we strongly recommend against trying to obtain controlled drugs over the Internet through online prescribing.

What is e-prescribing?

Electronic prescribing, or e-prescribing, allows clinicians to enter all your prescription information into a computer to transmit a prescription electronically to pharmacies of your choice while keeping all of your healthcare information private. Pharmacies need to be equipped with software to receive electronic prescriptions from providers, and most already a system in place for this. E-prescribing is a great benefit for patients because it allows prescription information to be sent to pharmacies clearly and make its easier to check for drug interactions, reducing the risk of medication errors. E-prescribing is also convenient for patients because doctors can send the prescription while you are in their office and it can be ready by the time you drive over to the pharmacy. Doctors can also use e-prescribing to send over more refills on your medication to the pharmacy in case you run out. 
Can I get a prescription over the phone?

You cannot get a prescription by calling a pharmacy directly. However, for certain, you can call your doctor and request a refilled prescription.

Can you get a prescription refilled without going to the doctor?

This depends on the substance. For some medications, you can simply call your doctor and request a new prescription, which you can then take to a pharmacy. For others, as stated above, you will need to obtain a written prescription after an in-person meeting with a doctor.

Can a doctor prescribe medication without seeing a patient?

Once more, with feeling: Yes, but only for minor ailments. According to the Federation of state medical boards 49 state boards in addition to D.C, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands all require physicians engaging in telemedicine to be licensed in the state in which the patient is located. The majority of providers will prescribe for minor medical conditions like: pneumonia, flu, strep throat, hypertension, diarrhea, and urinary tract infections.

Can I call in a prescription for myself?

You cannot call in a prescription for yourself at any legitimate pharmacies. If an online pharmacy accepts a prescription that you yourself have requested, the pharmacy is most likely a non-verified pharmacy. To avoid such situations, use PharmacyChecker’s verification portal (https://www.pharmacychecker.com/verification-portal/).

Can a pharmacist write a prescription?

Alas, pharmacists cannot write prescriptions. The role of the pharmacist is to ferry the proper prescription drug (and the proper amount of said drug) to the party in need. Pharmacists are not authorized to make decisions regarding prescription drug routines or care. Read more about why the pharmacist cannot fill your prescription on PharmacyChecker: (https://www.pharmacychecker.com/askpc/why-pharmacy-will-not-fill-prescription/). 

 
 

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