Our entire lives seem to be on the internet these days, from our social lives and careers, to how we manage our finances, the internet helps us in many ways. How we access medical advice and medication has also digitally evolved. With a press of a button we can find out tons of medical information, and even find a diagnosis based on the symptoms we search. We can also buy the treatment we need online and have it delivered to our doors. 

Buying medicine online is a fantastic option when GP surgeries are full, or if you need your medicine fast and don’t have the time to see your GP, however, safety is more important than convenience. 

In this guide, we give you tips on how to stay safe online when buying medicines and how to spot fake online pharmacies and doctor services. 

Where can you buy medicine online? 

You shouldn’t buy your medicine from any old website, it should be a trusted, secure, and registered online pharmacy or online doctor service that you buy your medicines from. Both types of services are regulated by the General Pharmaceutical Council to ensure the safe provision of medicines to the public. However, there are some websites that claim to be an online pharmacy or doctor service but they don’t have the necessary credentials to prove they are legitimate and safe, and we’ll show you how to spot these imposters. 

You can buy medicines either from an online pharmacy or online doctor service, both of which should be able to issue prescriptions and have registered pharmacists and doctors on hand to answer any questions you may have. 

What’s the difference between an online pharmacy and an online doctor service? 

As prescription medication needs the supervision of a healthcare professional you shouldn’t be able to purchase prescription-only medicines online without first going through a consultation process or having a prescription sent from your GP. 

Online pharmacies require a prescription from your GP or healthcare professional before dispensing your prescription medication. This can be sent in paper form or electronically via the Electronic Prescription Service (EPS). EPS allows your GP to send your prescriptions easily to a pharmacy of your choice. 

Alternatively, you can buy medicines from an online prescribing service that works slightly differently to online pharmacies. These services offer a consultation with a GP registered by the General Medical Council (GMC) and based on the outcome of the consultation they can send your prescription to a pharmacy for dispensing. This works in exactly the same way as your normal GP surgery except that it is all online and is more convenient if you can’t make your surgery for a face-to-face consultation. Your online prescriber must have all of the same qualifications and credentials as any doctor or pharmacist and follow the same guidelines.   

What type of medicines are available to buy online? 

Buy prescription drugs online

You can buy over-the-counter medicines or prescription medicines online, this includes paracetamol, ibuprofen, the contraceptive pill, Viagra and many more medicines related to a range of health conditions. However, stronger drugs such as opiates must not be sold online. Recent regulations set by the General Pharmaceutical Council mean that online services can no longer prescribe or sell opiates, instead, you will need to visit your GP for a face-to-face consultation. For more information on these new regulations and how you can access these medicines read our guide, ‘Changes to Online Prescribing: What This Means For You’

How do you know if a website is safe to buy medicines from? 

There is a checklist of things you should look out for when it comes to ensuring that the website you’re buying medicines from is legitimate. Look out for: 

1. Registration logos 

Any website that is selling medicines legally should clearly display their credentials to prove this. Look out for the below logos, the first one shows that the company is registered by the GPhC and the second shows that the company is authorised by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to legally sell medicines online.   

GPhC registration


MHRA registration

These logos should be displayed clearly on the website if it is operating legally. 

2. Prompts to answer questions about your health 

Health questionnaire

Before being able to buy any prescription drugs online you should be asked a number of questions about your health and provide personal details to check your identity. Be wary of websites that allow you to complete the transaction without being asked any health questions. 

3. Prescription before medication

You should not be able to order medicine online without a prior prescription. Legitimate online pharmacies and doctor services will ask for a valid prescription to be sent from your GP to them before dispensing your medication, or they should go through a consultation process to provide you with a prescription before dispensing. 

4. Contactable 

There should be people available to speak to by phone and email including customer service, pharmacists, and doctors should you need to ask any questions related to your order, the medicines they sell, or any health-related questions. If there are no contact details or address, question their credibility and legitimacy. 

5. Secure payment system

Secure payment system

All legitimate websites selling any products should have a secure encrypted payment system in place. Look out for a padlock sign in the URL as an indicator that it is safe to purchase products from this website. 

Look at the overall quality of the website and the information provided about the medicines. The information should be scientifically researched and backed up by experts, and include important details about the medicine such as dosage instructions and side effects. 

How to spot fake online pharmacies and doctor services

There are also some telltale signs that some websites are operating as pharmacies or doctor services illegally. Knowing whether they’re fake or not can be difficult, but keeping these following signs in mind will help you avoid getting caught in the trap of fraudulent websites. Here’s what to look out for: 

  • Cheap prices that are too good to be true. If they’re way cheaper than other websites this is a sign they’re not following best practice
  • Avoid companies that allow you to buy prescription medicines without a valid prescription
  • No evidence of being registered by regulatory bodies. If there are no logos clearly displayed anywhere on the website which proves they are licensed to sell medicines this is a sure sign that they’re not operating legally and there is a risk that their medicines may be counterfeit
  • Check for grammar and spelling mistakes. Consistent errors in the writing on the website may indicate that there aren’t professionals working behind this company and suggests that the website is untrustworthy
  • Sending spam emails - signs of spammy emails may include subject lines with offensive or sexual language, spelling mistakes throughout the email, the address may also seem too personal and not professional or related to the company
  • Located outside the UK or ship medicines from a foreign country. Medicines sold inside the UK have gone through thorough trialling and passed strict regulations. Medicines bought outside the UK are not guaranteed to be safe, effective, or meet the same standard of quality as they do here in the UK

What are the risks of buying medicines from unauthorised websites? 

When buying from websites that are unlicensed to sell medicines you’re putting your health at great risk. Unlicensed online pharmacies and doctor services are likely to be selling counterfeit drugs which can be potentially harmful to your health. Counterfeit medicines may not contain any of the original ingredients or they may contain dangerous ingredients. They can be less effective, cause unpleasant or serious side effects, and cause interactions with any other medicines you may be taking as it’s difficult to know exactly what these medicines contain. 

Not only is your health at risk, but your personal and financial details are also vulnerable to being stolen and misused. These types of websites are not concerned about your health and therefore won’t be concerned about protecting your identity and money either. If you don’t feel 100% comfortable handing over your financial details to them, you certainly shouldn’t take their medicines. 

Is it safe to buy drugs online? 

Buying medicines online is the only option for many people and there are some fantastic online pharmacies and doctor services that provide an outstanding service to patients. Although there are rogues out there, you’ll now be able to differentiate between the rogues and the law-abiding, licensed online services by following our guide. Buying prescription drugs online is convenient and safe if done properly through services such as Doctor-4-U.