In November 2009 GP newspaper, a magazine popular with doctors, reported a survey of the views of GPs about online medicine. Of the 205 GPs surveyed 57% thought patients purchased medicine online because they were embarrassed to go to a GP for a prescription.
This may well be the case when the medicine concerned is for the treatment of erectile dysfunction (ED). This treatment can sometimes be seen by GPs as recreational, or at least this is a widely held perception about ED treatment.
These ED treatments, on the other hand, are effective, relatively safe and treat a condition that can be distressing. The position of the NHS on ED treatments is the NHS will provide small quantities if a man has a medical condition or can establish psychological distress. The patient who purchases ED medicine online may just be exercising good judgement. He may know what to expect from the NHS when it comes to obtaining a treatment for something some people see as a lifestyle choice.
There are other reasons people go online to buy prescription medicine apart from embarrassment.
Given the choice between sitting at home in front of a computer to get information and a prescription, against going to a surgery, some people naturally choose the computer. Sometimes they are right.
As long as a patient goes to a well regulated website and takes in the information they are given, and answers questions accurately, they can often get what they need delivered safely to their door.
Where the prescription medicine is for travel, such as malaria tablets, I would suggest patients are definitely right to go online.
GPs should welcome online consultations. When a patient obtains the medicine they need online GPs are freed up to do the things only GPs in surgeries can.