The German Ministry of Health is working on a new interactive labelling system to increase public confidence in online pharmacies.

The new interactive label, which will show the pharmacy is accredited, will be awarded to all online pharmacies with an official license to sell to the German market.

The German online pharmacy label will be interactive and provide real time information about pharmacy licenses. This will set it apart from existing static online e-health labelling initiatives, such as the Swiss Health on the Net Foundation, which accredits health information.

Someone who visits an online pharmacy can click on the label. This begins a query linking back to the German Institute for Medical Documentation and Information (DIMDI), a government agency responsible for medical nomenclature and digital databases in medicine.

The query will be processed automatically via a secure SSL-online connection. “If the online pharmacy carrying the label is registered in a newly established central database of all licensed online pharmacies, the customer will be informed that the pharmacy is trustworthy”, said DIMDI spokeswoman Susanne Breuer in an interview with E-Health Europe.

If the label is an imitation or if the license has recently expired, a warning notice will pop up.

“Today it can be difficult for customers of online pharmacies to distinguish between legal and illegal online pharmacies”, said Breuer. “With the new label, this will change.”

The federal online pharmacy database with the accompanying interactive label will go live early in 2009. A more precise date has not yet been given.

The government label is not the first online pharmacy label in Germany. For several years the German Association of Online Pharmacies (BVDVA) has been providing its own quality label. It is awarded to registered online pharmacies that fulfil additional quality criteria, for example in the field of patient information.

But the BVDVA labelling scheme is voluntary, and it costs €1500 plus annual fees, a sum that many online pharmacies are reluctant to invest.

The BVDVA label did also get into troubled water recently when the Federal Office for Fair Competition ruled that the label violated German competition regulations. This has left the future of the BVDVA label unclear.

The new government labelling initiative is likely to make it more difficult to persuade online pharmacies to pay for a second label.

For the time being though the BVDVA, which also acts as a pressure group for online pharmacies, welcomes the government initiative: “It is good that an official body is now dealing with the issue”, said BVDVA-spokeswoman Kerstin Kilian.

Apart from enhancing trustworthiness, the Ministry of Health’s initiative has a political dimension. There have been heavy debates about online pharmacies in Germany in recent years. They were legalised several years ago. But some powerful federal states, in particular the large and influential North-Rhine-Westphalia, have since sought to turn back the clock and ban online pharmacies.

With its initiative for the interactive label, the Federal Government in Berlin now has made it clear that it will not back another ban on online pharmacies in Germany.

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