Telepharmacy could prove to be a benefit to elderly patients who have difficulty traveling. What kind of licensing issues are involved in telepharmacy, and what are the concerns regarding the security of network communication?
Telepharmacy holds great promise not only for the elderly, but for rural communities poorly served by the health care industry. And telepharmacy is already a widely used service, for better and for worse.
The internet has obviously revolutionized communications, education, and the provision of many services, especially shopping. The introduction of medical services to the internet, however, has provided as many concerns as it has benefits. Many people are concerned about the regulation of the telepharmacy industry. The internet provides unprecedented avenues for mischief with regards to concealing identities and invading privacy. Both of those concerns are involved in discussions of the risks associated with telepharmacy. Patients have to be cautious about what companies they contact with regard to something as vital as prescription medications. Once a patient is no longer walking into the neighborhood pharmacy, but rather dealing online with anonymous technicians, then the risks of fraud increase exponentially.
Every state in the country has a Board of Pharmacy that regulates that industry within its borders. The challenge of ensuring that the cross-border movement of legitimate pharmaceutical transactions is properly overseen, however, has been formidable. All states require that out-of-state pharmacists be registered with their Board of Pharmacy in order to ship drugs into that state. Requirements placed upon pharmacists may include a personal inteview with the Board, as in Alabama, but most only require that the pharmacist provide proof of having been practicing for a specified number of years.
The problem with telepharmacy has not involved transactions within the United States as much as it has involved transactions across international borders. Ensuring medications manufactured and distributed in another country, even one with whom the United States maintains close working relationships, provides another regulatory challenge. Abuse of prescription medications has been reported to be increasing as a direct result of the ease and relative anonymity involved in internet pharmaceutical transactions.
In an attempt to protect public safety and better regulate telepharmacy, Congress passed the "Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act" in 2008. This law, which built upon the existing Controlled Substances Act, authorized the Drug Enforcement Administration to draft regulations specific to the growing practice of telepharmacy. How successful the new law will be in protecting public safety is yet to be determined.
With regard to the securtiy of the internet transactions, serious efforts are made by legitimate pharmaceutical companies and pharmacists to ensure that the the online process is protected against unauthorized intrusions. Having spent some years on the issue of cybersecurity, albeit specific to other areas, the risks of invasions of privacy and of manipulation of data is sufficiently high that caution is warranted. Very secure computer systems have been successfully hacked. While the kind of skilled computer network specialists that break into secure systems are not necessarily concerned with your medical history, the fact remains that the systems used in telepharmacy are no more secure than others that are breached.