Medical profiling and online medicine: the ethics of 'personalised healthcare' in a consumer age


Published 12/10/2010

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Online pharmacies can allow people to buy medicines conveniently and privately. Great Britain has a registration system for online pharmacies to help people identify legitimate websites.

The internet can also be used to buy medicines for which people do not have a prescription and which are illegal in their country. People doing this risk buying harmful, fake or low quality medicines and could miss out on advice offered by doctors and pharmacists. It could also lead to an increase in antibiotic resistance arising from misuse of antibiotics.

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The extent of any harm currently being caused is not known but the potential for harm is great. As with all online services, the international nature of the problem makes it a difficult area to regulate.

We conclude

Registration schemes for online pharmacies, such as the one in Great Britain, should be mirrored in other countries.

Government websites should provide information about the risks of buying medicines online and how to identify a registered online pharmacy.

Doctors should receive training and advice on how to deal with patients who may be buying medicines online.

Governments worldwide should set and enforce regulations on the supply of antibiotics in their country.