Using Online Pharmacies

Online Pharmacy Shopping

Online pharmacies offer similar services to local pharmacies. They dispense and deliver prescriptions, address customer questions and concerns, and provide customers with the necessary information to ensure the correct use of each medication. Some online pharmacies have an online program that allows customers to enter the names of medications and it will check to see if any adverse reactions could occur as a result of taking certain medications. VIPPS-certified pharmacies are required to offer their customers free phone consultation with a pharmacist. Many offer free ask-a-pharmacist e-mail service as well.


Many people choose online pharmacies for the sake of convenience. Online pharmacies can deliver to your home or work, charging a small shipping fee. However, a shipment can take anywhere from two - twelve (2-12) days, or more, to arrive.

Online pharmacies also offer a great deal of information about medications, medical conditions and price lists.


Lower prices are sometimes a benefit of online pharmacies, especially with generic medications. Prices can change quickly in order to stay competitive. Remember to account for sales tax, shipping and handling fees when purchasing your medications online.

It is also said that Canada’s prescription drugs are priced much lower than in the U.S. However, it is important to know that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) generally prohibits the importation of foreign-made versions of prescription medications that are commercially available in the US. So if you choose to purchase medications online via web sites from other countries, understand that that may not be legal.


Online pharmacies are regulated by state boards of pharmacy. An online pharmacy has to comply with the regulations of the state in which their business is physically located. Federal agencies, such as the FDA and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), also assist in this regulation.


Certain web sites require that a prescription be sent directly from the doctor’s office before the medication is dispensed. This can delay the shipping time.

Other sites that are not approved may not require proof of a prescription, physical exam or other health information in order to dispense a medication. This is not legal or very safe.


Just like purchasing online from other web sites, using an online pharmacy may not be the safest option. If you make a purchase, make sure to check if the site is secure: look for a yellow padlock in the right corner. Then, the web page's address should change to yellow and from "http" to "https."

Customers also prefer to use online pharmacies for privacy reasons – unlike a local pharmacy, the online pharmacy won’t be able to put a face to a medication.

Approved Pharmacies

The number of online pharmacies is becoming more prevalent and for some, more convenient. At the moment, there are at least 200 web sites that dispense prescriptions, according to the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy.

The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) was established in 1904 to assist state licensing boards in developing, implementing, and enforcing uniform standards to protect the Public Health. Pharmacy boards from fifty states, the District of Columbia, three U.S. territories, eight Canadian provinces, two Australian states and South Africa make up the association membership.

In the spring of 1999 in response to public concern of the safety of pharmacy practices on the Internet, the association developed the Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites™or VIPPS®.

VIPPS identifies online pharmacy sites that are “appropriately licensed, are legitimately operating via the Internet, and that have successfully completed a rigorous criteria review and inspection.” VIPPS allows these selected pharmacies to place the VIPPS seal of approval on their web site.

NABP-approved Online Pharmacies

According to the NABP, "to be VIPPS certified, a pharmacy must comply with the licensing and inspection requirements of their state and each state to which they dispense pharmaceuticals. In addition, pharmacies displaying the VIPPS seal have demonstrated to NABP compliance with VIPPS criteria including patient rights to privacy, authentication and security of prescription orders, adherence to a recognized quality assurance policy, and provision of meaningful consultation between patients and pharmacists."

Visit, it collects, evaluates, and reports credentials, prices, and customer feedback regarding pharmacies that operate online and through mail-order and fax (generally referred to as “online pharmacies”). It is an affiliate of, LLC, which is an independent evaluator of dietary supplements and nutrition products; it is not affiliated with any pharmacy or with any manufacturer or distributor of health products.

The information provided here is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advice. These tips are from doctors, nurses and people who have shared their real life advice; always check with a doctor or other appropriate medical professional you trust before making any healthcare changes.

Updated: 5/2009