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A Safe Pharmacy Environment in the Digital Age

Today’s ever-evolving, digital world has fundamentally changed, enhanced and challenged the way in which businesses all over the world must operate. For organizations and professions that have existed for centuries, this has created the opportunity and the test of adapting to change to remain successful and relevant.

The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) was founded in 1904, at a time when there was little uniformity in the practice of, or standards for pharmacy. NABP Executive Director/Secretary Carmen A. Catizone, MS, RPh, DPh, explains why NABP was so important at that time in the industry’s history.

“Each state had very different requirements, and there was no uniform measure of what skills and knowledge a pharmacist needed to receive a license. Pharmaceuticals, too, were unregulated. There were no standards for safety or efficacy.

“NABP was formed to assist the state boards in achieving inter-state reciprocity of pharmacists’ licenses based on minimum standards of education and uniform legislation.”

The dark side of technological advancement

Over the decades, developments targeted at patient safety have resulted in regulations that have raised standards for pharmacy practice and the pharmaceutical supply chain to a level where “pharmacists have become one of the most trusted sources for medication and related information,” says Dr. Catizone.

However, as it did for many established industries, the widespread adoption of the internet raised challenges.

“Online drug sellers became more common in the late 1990s, and we started seeing some back-sliding in the achievement of safety made to that point. They began circumventing the laws and standards established to keep patients safe.”

These developments have made NABP’s role both more complex and more crucial. NABP stated that it has evaluated more than 11,500 websites selling prescription drugs and found 96 percent of them to be operating illegally—the majority of them dispensing potentially dangerous medicine without requiring a prescription.

“Consumers today put their safety at risk when they buy medicine online,” explains Dr. Catizone. “It’s not enough to make sure high standards are in place for the practice of pharmacy because consumers don’t always go to their corner drugstore. They need to know how to find safe, legitimate online pharmacies that are in compliance with patient safety standards.”

How a 110+ year-old organization adapts to change

To address the need for better consumer education, NABP now runs awareness programs on the dangers of online criminals and counterfeit drugs, empowering consumers to make safer decisions when buying medicine online.

NABP also grants certifications to legitimate pharmacies and related organizations that uphold high standards and demonstrate best practices.

“The Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites, or VIPPS, program was launched in 1999 in response to public and regulatory agency concerns regarding the safety of internet pharmacy practices and to provide a means for patients to identify legitimate online pharmacies. VIPPS accreditation is still considered the gold standard for internet pharmacies in the United States.”

As Dr. Catizone explains, the VIPPS program itself has also evolved, most recently with the introduction of the .pharmacy Top-Level Domain as part of the .Pharmacy Verified Websites Program.

“NABP believes strongly that its .Pharmacy Program is the future of safe pharmacy and pharmacy-related services online, offering a superior means of displaying approval to consumers and other entities,” he said.

“As such, NABP is requiring all VIPPS-accredited pharmacies to register and use a .pharmacy domain name in order maintain their accreditation. It’s no longer enough to have a seal of approval. Seals can be copied and pasted and displayed fraudulently to dupe patients into thinking they are visiting a safe website.

“The .pharmacy domain name identifies legitimately operating pharmacies and pharmacy-related entities for consumers, advertisers, and search engine companies by incorporating the ‘seal of approval’ into the domain name.”

The future of online pharmacy standards

Ultimately, NABP aims to see widespread usage of the .pharmacy domain across the industry, as a sign of credibility and security for consumers.

“Pharmacies and related entities will recognize the .pharmacy domain name as a way to stand out against the overwhelming number of websites selling medicine illegally, including substandard and counterfeit products,” said Dr. Catizone.

As the internet challenges organizations like NABP to evolve, NABP has decided not just to keep up, but to contribute to a better, safer, environment for online consumers.

“NABP would like to see search engines recognizing domains ending in .pharmacy as verified and legitimate and pushing them to the top of search results. The more consumers know about the .pharmacy domain and that it is a beacon of safety online, the more they will choose to visit websites with a .pharmacy domain name. In the end, the .Pharmacy Program contributes to a safer internet.”

Anyone interested in learning more about NABP and the .Pharmacy Program can visit NABP’s website and the .pharmacy domain website.

By Sue Schuster, Client Engagement Manager, Registry Services at Neustar

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