Conducting Inspections of International Online Pharmacies

Written by Jeffrey Poirier, MBA, RPh | Posted November 09, 2021

The world of international online pharmacies is growing at an extremely fast pace. It is important to know how to distinguish a rogue online pharmacy from a legitimate online pharmacy. Some bad actors are very easy to spot: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is! The simplest rule of thumb for consumers is that if an online pharmacy doesn’t require a prescription for prescription medication, it is a rogue. It gets more challenging when it is not quite as apparent. That’s where we come in.  The PharmacyChecker Verification Program audits and verifies many aspects of an international online pharmacy before approving it as a PharmacyChecker accredited online pharmacy. We are strict and thorough for good reason: your health and finances on the internet are at stake. 

An Online Pharmacy That Isn’t a Pharmacy?

Although it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck… An online pharmacy may not be a pharmacy at all. This is a key differentiation that I don’t believe a lot of online shoppers realize: a website may work with a dispensing pharmacy (or several) to fill your prescription orders. A trustworthy online pharmacy will be able to answer all of your questions regarding the actual pharmacy that will dispense your prescription in addition to those about the online pharmacy itself.  PharmacyChecker-accredited online pharmacies must only refer orders to PharmacyChecker-accredited dispensing pharmacies, which also undergo a rigorous PharmacyChecker verification process. All of the pharmacies that are vetted and continue to meet this standard can be found here

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Rogue Pharmacy Behavior

Now the not so obvious: an online pharmacy has many ways to disguise rogue behavior. The PharmacyChecker Verification Program digs deep into a full website review and tests the findings with a process akin to mystery shopping. An important criterion for an international online pharmacy to be considered accredited by PharmacyCheckeris that it must not market or promote the sale of controlled drugs and must require a valid prescription for all transactions.  A PharmacyChecker Verification Program mystery shopper will create an account on the online pharmacy website and try to purchase a controlled drug or a non-controlled drug without a prescription. Responses are downloaded and attached to the online pharmacy website’s audit for review. Another important factor that is verified is whether a licensed pharmacist is available for consultation through the website. Our mystery shoppers verify this as well with some nicely scripted prescription questions. Another important rule for an international online pharmacy to be PharmacyChecker accredited is that they may NOT provide a service that generates prescriptions through the use of remote consultations. Our mystery shoppers are busy here as well trying to obtain medications without a valid prescription through the use of remote consultations. 

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Medications Requiring Special Dispensing Considerations

Some medications require special handling and may have certain special certifications that are needed for their dispensing. PharmacyChecker refers to these medications as MRSDC (medications requiring special dispensing considerations) and reviews the drug listings on verified websites to assure these drugs are not listed and if so the pharmacy meets these requirements. 

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Marketing or Shipping Refrigerated Products

Refrigerated medications, such as insulin, are also a major component of the PharmacyChecker Verification Program review process. If an online pharmacy or dispensing pharmacy markets or ships refrigerated medications, they must undergo a thorough policy review to assure they meet PharmacyChecker criteria which we consider “best practice”.  If the policy meets these criteria, then shipments are tested and verified to assure the cold chain is maintained until the customer receives the products.

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Online Pharmacy Company Verification

The website and company are also reviewed. This includes the verification of the website’s company offices through the use of test mailings. We also make sure the website’s advertised phone number is answered by a live attendant or calls are returned in a timely fashion. PharmacyChecker accredited websites may not make any misleading claims about services. Our audit team continually reviews these websites to monitor for claims such as “generic medications are exactly the same” or from where a medication order will be processed or shipped.  The website must clearly display the country from which products will be shipped prior to an order being placed. Privacy of data is also very important. PharmacyChecker ensures privacy policies, and the technology utilized to assure this, are in place. 

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International Mailorder Medication Quantities

PharmacyChecker accredited international online pharmacies may only market and ship products up to a 90 day supply. This important standard is verified by our team and decreases the chance that an order gets stopped during shipment across international borders. Although technically the United States prohibits the personal importation of medications, they generally choose not to enforce this rule for personal importation of medications for up to a 90 day supply.

There are many other audits conducted by PharmacyChecker before an international online pharmacy is officially accredited through the PharmacyChecker Verification Program,  and this overview demonstrates the complexities associated with determining if an online pharmacy is legitimate. So leave the worries to us and feel confident that if it is PharmacyChecker accredited, we have completed a thorough review and the international online pharmacy is meeting, if not exceeding the highest standards of pharmacy practice.

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