Get a prescription online without ever seeing a doc

A recent article in Forbes reports how patients in Britain are able to go to least a dozen websites for online consultations with doctors they've never met and have physicians prescribe medications. The sites are completely legal and regulated by an agency called the Care Quality Commission.

"The British websites are definitely an exception, but they are the start of a trend we will soon see everywhere," Norwegian telemedicine expert Dr. Steinar Pedersen told the business magazine. Pedersen was unable to name any other countries that allow physicians to prescribe medication remotely for patients they've never seen in person.

In countries including Canada, Denmark, Norway, Germany, and France, doctors are only allowed to treat patients online if they have previously seen them in person," Forbes reports. "In the United States, several companies offer online medicine," the article says, "but patients must typically speak to a doctor on the telephone or set up a videoconference for a live, face-to-face chat."

Typically, but not exclusively. There's a Utah-based company called KwikMed that is legally allowed to prescribe medications online for Utah residents after patients fill out a complete medical history form and diagnostic assessment. The company, like many of the British sites, restricts its offerings to drugs for erectile dysfunction, hair loss and smoking cessation. Some of the physicians, nurses and pharmacists involved in the process published a paper in Mayo Clinic Proceedings in August 2008, reporting that their process was safer than the traditional way of seeing a doctor and asking for a prescription because KwikMed takes a complete history and conducts the assessment that many time-crunched physicians overlook.

The Federation of State Medical Boards and the pharmaceutical industry, particularly Pfizer, have fought KwikMed for years, and the American Medical Association isn't exactly thrilled about the prospect of prescribing meds without an existing doctor-patient relationship. In the Forbes article, representatives of the American Academy of Family Physicians and, in the UK, the Royal College of Physicians don't offer glowing endorsements, either.

In two years, KwikMed hasn't convinced any other state to allow it to operate, but give it time. If not KwikMed or one of the British sites, someone will offer online consultations and prescriptions for a limited set of non-emergent conditions. If the technology is proven safe, it's only a matter of time until patients demand and get such convenience. - Neil

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