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The dos and don'ts of taking your medical needs online

Attracted by the convenience of ordering prescriptions in a few quick clicks? Read these tips first

By Abi Jackson

With more online GP services cropping up and new apps launching to help monitor and manage symptoms, the internet's role in how we look after our health is greater than ever.

One of the biggest draws is convenience, enabling us to arrange a check-up or order prescriptions at a time that suits, removing the need to take time off work, traipse to the doctor's surgery and then to the pharmacy, or be caught out by long waiting lists - which is why so many people are willing to pay a few pounds more for the privilege.

But easier access to prescription drugs raises safety concerns, too. "Millions of people in the UK use online doctor services to allow them to have a convenient consultation with a General Medical Council (GMC)-registered doctor over the internet, and then either be sent their prescription in the post or collect it from a local pharmacy," says Dr Kieran Seyan from LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor, one of the first services of its kind to be approved by the UK Government's healthcare regulator, the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

"If you choose a reputable service, then obtaining medicine online is completely safe, but you do need to follow a few basic ground rules."

Here, Dr Seyan shares his top dos and don'ts for buying prescription medicine online.

DO

Be honest

"It is essential for your online doctor to ask you some medical questions during a consultation to ensure the medicine is suitable for you. They need to ask about the symptoms you have and get some background information about your current and past health. With the correct information, your doctor can prescribe safely. Giving false information can be dangerous as it can lead to unsuitable medication being prescribed."

Choose a service you know you can trust

"There are many services out there on the internet and the inspection of them by the regulator is still in progress. You are safest choosing one you know you can trust. Ask yourself the following: Have you heard of the company before? Does the site look professional? Do they list who the doctors are? Make sure they are displaying an 'Authorised Medicine Seller' logo so you can be sure the medicine you will be given is genuine. You should also check the online doctor service is registered with the CQC. This means they will be subject to an inspection to check the quality and safety of the services they provide. Check the CQC website (cqc.org.uk) to see if they have passed their inspection and the report on the quality of their service."

Consider using an online doctor to obtain emergency contraception

"Online doctors and pharmacies have helped improve access to emergency contraception and it's one example where these services have proven extremely beneficial for patients. A recent study has shown LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor's emergency contraception service has led to a lower rate of unwanted pregnancies (1.3% compared with the national average of 2.5%-6%), largely because of the speed of access and ease of collection from pharmacy. A reputable service will also discuss (and if appropriate, prescribe) ongoing contraception."

DON'T

Search for the cheapest medicine

"The internet is great when it comes to price comparisons on things like flights and insurance; medicine, however, is a different matter. It is essential you get the correct medicine for you, one that is genuine and safe. If an offer seems too good to be true, then it probably is and you should never take risks with your health."

Use them for a medical emergency

"These services are there to provide convenience for today's hectic lives when seeing your own GP can be a challenge, but if you have an urgent medical concern, you must see your own GP or go to A&E."

Take medication that doesn't look genuine

"If your medicine arrives and you have any concerns about the way it looks or the consultation process, then don't take it, it's simply not worth the risk. Talk to your pharmacist first; they'll be happy to speak to you about any medicine at any time if you have concerns."

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