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Using Telemedicine and Online Pharmacies

Posted on Apr 30, 2018

Patrick Mularoni, M.D.

The internet has changed the way most of us live and has changed the way medicine is being practiced in our country. Today, many people are turning to house calls by interacting with a doctor over the internet using telemedicine and online pharmacies have made trips to the local pharmacy a thing of the past for many Americans. The most important question: Are they safe? Patrick Mularoni, M.D., from Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital helps parents find a answers.

First let’s talk about this growing trend of telemedicine. What is it and is it a good alternative to seeing a doctor face to face?

Many of us have seen telemedicine services offered through their jobs and through insurance, and it is a trend that is increasing. The idea is that you can visit a doctor quickly and easily from your home, which is both convenient for the patient and can be cost saving for the insurance company. The biggest negative with telemedicine is the lack of a relationship with the physician who is providing the care and the inability to provide a true hands-on evaluation. A complete exam can be difficult over the internet and is not an effective replacement for an exam in a pediatrician’s office. Some tips for using telehealth:

  1. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of the provider, including their specialty.
  2. Parents should be concerned if children are given diagnoses that require antibiotics for a condition that is difficult to assess over the internet. Examples are diagnosing an ear infection without looking in the ears or diagnosing a urinary infection without checking the urine.
  3. If you choose to use telehealth, I suggest that you always follow up with your pediatrician. These services should not be used as a replacement for a pediatrician who knows your child.

How about online pharmacies are they safe?

Many legitimate pharmacies provide convenient access to filling prescriptions online. But as with anything online you need to be careful and diligent to know who you are dealing with. The FDA has a website called BeSafeRx to help consumers navigate the use of online pharmacies. To stay safe you need to do a few things, which include not using a pharmacy that:

  1. Allows you to buy drugs without a prescription or by completing an online questionnaire.
  2. Offers discounts or cheap prices that seem too good to be true.
  3. Sends unsolicited email or other spam offering cheap medicine.
  4. Ships prescription drugs worldwide.
  5. States that the drugs will be shipped from a foreign country. 

We have heard stories recently about counterfeit pills coming into the United States. What are the risks to patients?

We are seeing a big problem with counterfeit pain medicine coming into the United States and users are dying or getting sick from ingesting medicine that is different from what they think they are taking, especially in the area of pain medication.

There are pharmacies shipping medicines that are the same color, size and have the same markings stamped on them as oxycodone that you could get in the United States, but instead the medicines contain a drug called Fentanyl or Carafentanyl, which can be 100 to 1,000 times more potent than the medication that the user thinks he or she is taking. This is what is believed to have happened to the song artist Prince who was found to have Fentanyl in his system, which many believe came from counterfeit vicodin pills that he didn’t know were fake.

This concern of counterfeit medicine also is affecting the supplement industry where many teens are turning to buy supplements that they are being told will make them bigger, stronger and faster. The problem is that many of these online retailers do not fully disclose all of the ingredients contained in the supplements and the supplements could contain steroids or other substances that are banned by the World Anti-Doping Association. This should be a big concern for parents as many kids are turning to the internet to purchase supplements.

The most important thing for a parent is to talk to your child and those around you about this growing problem and do your homework to make sure that you know what you’re putting into your body.

This information was shared on WTVT-TV’s Doc on Call segment, which is aimed at helping parents learn more about children’s health issues. The segment airs each Monday morning on Good Day Tampa Bay.

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