The National Clearinghouse on Internet Prescribing

Stephen Barrett, M.D.

The National Clearinghouse on Internet Prescribing (NCIP) was established by the Federation of State Medical Boards in September 2000 to collect and disseminate information about "rogue" Internet pharmacy sites that offer prescription drugs without proper medical evaluations. The fact that these businesses operate in multiple states and do not readily disclose the names of their employees makes it difficult for regulatory authorities to monitor and track enforcement actions. The Clearinghouse has established lines of communication between state and federal authorities and has helped to identify physicians, pharmacies, and Web site owners. It also supports state medical board efforts to promulgate policies and guidelines for physician practice through the Internet. The Federation's Model Guidelines for the Appropriate Use of the Internet in Medical Practice were published in 2002.

The Clearinghouse actively seeks to identify the physicians and pharmacies associated with "rogue" sites by making undercover purchases. The information thus generated is then reported to relevant state and federal agencies and complaints are filed with state medical and pharmacy boards. This not only facilitates regulation but also helps to reduce duplication of efforts and unnecessary drains on limited staff and financial resources. The NCIP Web site offers data on relevant laws, policies, and enforcement actions. Its quarterly newsletter, RxBeat, provides handy summaries of disciplinary actions and other news.

The risks posed by rogue prescribing include adverse drug reactions, delay in appropriate diagnosis and treatment, and misuse of prescription medications, including controlled substances. However, problems of this type rarely come to the attention of regulators because consumers are reluctant to report bad results or don't know how to pursue complaints. In addition to helping consumers, the elimination of "rogue" pharmacy operations will permit legitimate one to compete on a level playing field where market share is determined by such issues as price and quality of service.

This article was posted on February 19, 2009.

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