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Prescription For Trouble? What You Need To Know About Getting Online Meds

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) -- Everything from groceries to home decor, clothes and books can be purchased online and delivered to your door, in some cases, the very same day, thanks to companies like Amazon.

Last fall, the online giant hinted at a jump into the prescription drug business.

But the growth of e-pharmacies comes with some warnings to patients.

"Patients get their prescription in the mail and they forget that they can ask questions," said Dr. Susan Solman.

Dr. Solman is a professor of pharmacology at Florida International University's medical school.

She worries the lack of patient-pharmacist interaction could lead to errors.

"Almost 50% of patients take their medication incorrectly and that causes emergency room visits," she told CBS4 Anchor Lauren Pastrana. "Over 3.5 million physician office visits (happen) yearly due to medication-related problems."

But the e-pharmacy market, which was valued at $33 billion in 2016, continues to grow as insurers work out exclusive deals and force patients to take the mail-order route, whether they want to or not.

"Insurance companies are directing consumers to use online pharmacies for their cost savings, and they provide economic incentives to the patients. It's convenient to the patient at times but it can also lead to a lot of confusion," Dr. Solman explained.

The problem, Dr. Solman says, lies in the fact that different pharmacies may use generic versions of the same medication. Pills may be a different size, shape or color, even if the active ingredient is the same.

That can be confusing and can cause dosage and dispensing mistakes.

She encourages patients to always read the label completely, and when in doubt, call the number on the prescription label and ask to speak with the pharmacist on staff since you can't speak to one in person.

"I'd prefer to go to my neighborhood pharmacist where I know my pharmacist and my pharmacist knows me," Dr. Solman said. I don't have to wait days. If I lose my medication, I can go to my pharmacist and say "Could you fill a prescription?"

Dr. Solman says she really prefers to have a choice, but soon, your insurance company may be making that choice for you.

"Some patients like it for the convenience. I personally would rather have that face to face interaction."

All of this assumes you're using a mail-order pharmacy that's accredited.

But if you're just surfing the web in search of cheap meds, Dr. Solman says you may come across sites that are not accredited, and in that case, you really have no idea what medication you're actually getting, so it's buyer beware.

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