By Tari Mord, DVM for the Havre Daily News
"Doc, I found a site on the Internet that will sell me my pets' prescription drugs for a whole lot cheaper than you do. All you need to do is send them a signed prescription form for each of the drugs my pets need. Will you do that?"
With the advent of Internet pharmacies and the convenience of ordering online, many people prefer to do their shopping in the comfort of their home office. What most people don't understand, however, is that there are pitfalls and problems with Internet pharmacies, no matter how reputable they are.
By law, an Internet pharmacy must have a written and signed prescription on file for every prescription medication order they fill. The prescription must be signed by a licensed veterinarian who has a doctor-client-patient relationship with the client and pet. By signing the prescription form, the veterinarian is confirming that the pet's current state of health requires or can tolerate that particular medication. If the vet refuses to sign or prescribe a certain medication, that says the pet's current health situation requires a different medication and/or more frequent monitoring. Herein lies one major problem with online pharmacies: If the client's veterinarian won't sign a prescription, the pharmacy's veterinarian will do it without benefit of the doctor-patient relationship.
Now the pet is taking a prescription medication that may or may not be correct for its condition. If the client has questions regarding dosage, side effects or reactions with other medications the pet might be taking, calling the online pharmacy often yields incorrect or no information. Because the pet's usual veterinarian didn't prescribe the medication, he or she has to piece together the pet's symptoms with the history the client gives to try to find out the best course of action for the pet. The veterinarian becomes frustrated in these cases since the owner often feels the need to hide or downplay the fact that the pet is on a medication prescribed online, and the pet's health may suffer.
Not all online pharmacies are unethical. Some of them work very hard to maintain a working relationship with each patient's vet and take great pride in providing excellent service, products and technical support for their clients. Many, however, are more focused on making a fast profit, discrediting veterinarians and accumulating more clients by any means possible. These are the pharmacies that fill prescriptions with phony or no written prescriptions, send out illegal products (any medication with labels printed in a foreign language are illegal) and fill orders using inferior generic products, just to name a few of their "tricks."
Online pharmacies claim to offer prescription medications at cheaper prices with at-home delivery. That sounds great until the client sees the postage and handling charges, as well as the new-prescription fees added to the bill. Add to that the minimum order requirement many pharmacies have and the online order often isn't as economical as the client thought.
How should you, as a caring but cost-conscious pet owner, approach your pet's vet with your prescription cost concerns? Go ahead and shop the online pharmacies to compare costs of the medications your pet requires. Make sure you understand all of the pharmacy's shipping costs, and inquire if they require a minimum order. Take all your gathered cost comparisons to your vet, and ask if he or she could or would be willing to meet or beat their prices. Most vets are more than willing to show you the benefits of keeping your prescriptions business "at home," and many will work with you on prices as well.
Finally, the greatest benefit to working closely with your vet regarding all aspects of your pet's care, including buying online prescriptions, is that your pet's health can be fully and carefully monitored. Everyone involved in caring for your pet knows everything about the medical history, including all drugs that were prescribed and given, so there are no surprise drug interactions or changes in your pet's health status. Your vet shares your goal of keeping your pet as healthy and comfortable as possible.