As I have mentioned before, there are a variety of internet pharmacy website business models. All of them, of course, have in common the fact that they sell or market prescription drugs or the ability to obtain prescription drugs on the internet. The business models typically vary based on their prescription and/or medical record requirements and can generally be categorized into four groups.
- Direct Drug Online Consultation (”OCS”) Internet Pharmacy Websites: Typically these websites require a patient to submit medical records, a medical history questionnaire, and proof of identification via fax, e-mail, or postal mail. Once the records are received, doctors, under contract with the website, conduct phone or online consultations with the patient and, afterwards, write a prescription. The prescription is then forwarded to a pharmacy, also under contract with the website, which fills and mails the medication to the customer. In this scenario, there are three players: the website owner, the doctor, and the pharmacy. Sometimes a pharmacy or doctor is also the website owner, eliminating the middleman.
- Direct Prescription Online Consultation Internet Pharmacy Websites (”Direct Script”): These also involve online or phone consultations with contracted doctors; however, the website sends the customer the written prescription rather than contacting a pharmacy to fill it. The customer must then take the prescription to the pharmacy of their choice once they have it in hand.
- No Record Internet Pharmacy Websites (NROPs): As you might guess, no record websites do not require the patient to submit medical records prior to obtaining a prescription. The website either directly sells the drugs to the customer, much like goods on Amazon.com, or operates like the consultation websites, minus the requirement for medical records. You will find many international pharmacies in this category. Of course, as the Mark Monitor internet pharmacy study that I discussed last week points out, many of these “foreign” pharmacies curiously are hosted on U.S. based servers.
- Brick and Mortar Pharmacies with Websites Requiring Physical Examinations: This category includes the CVSs and Walgreens of the world that also operate websites, all of which are VIPPS and LegitScript.com approved pharmacies. Typically, a patient uses the website only to manage their prescriptions or, for example, to download forms for ordering drugs by mail with a valid prescription. Other websites, such as Drugstore.com (even though they do not have a brick and mortar pharmacy), fall under this category, because drugs may only be obtained by a prescription written after a physical examination by your local doctor.
Clearly, the first three categories present much greater legal challenges; however, at least with websites requiring medical records, the supposition that they are blatently illegal is questionable at best. Over the next several weeks, I plan to explain the government’s position and outline the positions against it.
If I missed a category, feel free to let me know in the comments.
The content on this post does not constitute legal advice and is for informational purposes only. You should not act upon the information presented on this website without seeking the advice of legal counsel. Should you wish to speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney knowledgeable in internet pharmacy, prescription, and drug law, please feel free to contact me directly.