Human Behaviors in Online Pharmacies

Human Behaviors in Online Pharmacies

Grazia Orizio (University of Brescia, Italy) and Umberto Gelatti (University of Brescia, Italy)
Copyright: © 2012 |Pages: 10
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-0315-8.ch056
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Online pharmacies are companies that sell pharmaceutical preparations via the Internet. The purpose of this contribution is to summarize the existing evidence on the issue, following four main research areas. The first is about data on consumers buying from online pharmacies. This is the most relevant area regarding behavioral aspects. The research area was tackled via different approaches, specifically: the study of cognitive characteristics and decision-making patterns, the definition of consumers’ socio-demographic characteristics via population-based surveys, clinical case reports on complications occurring in consumers of drugs purchased online, and the empirical study of risk perception regarding online pharmacies. Other research areas include the study of online pharmacy website characteristics (found by web scanning), and of the products bought online in terms of purchase characteristics and drug quality. A large amount of literature was dedicated to the complex legal and ethical implications raised by online pharmacies.
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The online sale of drugs started in the late 1990s and has expanded so much that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has implemented an entire section on its website dedicated to “Buying medicines over the Internet” where consumers can find, among other things, a safety guide, a list of possible dangers and answers to frequently asked questions (Gallagher 2000, FDA 2010). In its atlas of e-health country profiles, the World Health Organization (WHO) includes Internet pharmacies among the items evaluated in the legal and ethical framework (WHO 2011). The WHO is faced with this issue in the context of counterfeit medicines, which “pose a public health risk,” and states that “in over 50% of cases, medicines purchased over the Internet from illegal sites that conceal their physical address have been found to be counterfeit” (WHO 2010). Besides this, the WHO has implemented the International Medical Products Anti-Counterfeiting Taskforce (WHO, IMPACT).

The main challenge in tackling the issue of online pharmacies is the fact that - besides being fairly concealed - it is very complex; scientific works on online pharmacies are fairly difficult to compare owing to the widely differing methods used to select samples and assess them, and often the works are written in answer to multiple research questions.

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