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Policing illegal prescriptions online

The physician's trade group, AMA, plans to work with U.S. and state regulators to shut down Internet pharmacies that are selling prescription drugs illegally.

The American Medical Association will work with U.S. and state regulators to shut down Internet pharmacies that are selling prescription drugs illegally, the power physician's trade group decided this week.

The AMA is particularly concerned about online pharmacies that sell such drugs as Viagra--after consumers fill in only an online medical questionnaire--without being seen by a physician.

"It is inappropriate for Web sites to offer medication to the public when there is not proper care taken to safeguard the patient's health," said Donald Palmisano, a surgeon who sits on the AMA's board of trustees, in an interview with CNET's News.com. "We want to use technology to advance the care of the patients, so any way that the Internet or other means of communications can help us carry out our mission, we will embrace it."

The AMA this week endorsed using the Net to prescribe medications "with appropriate safeguards," which an AMA working committee will draft. No timetable was specified.

The AMA also urged the medical boards in individual states to crack down on physicians who don't meet standards of safe medical care when issuing prescriptions through Web pharmacies. The association also will work with the Federation of State Medical Boards to develop model legislation for states to limit prescriptions via the Internet.

In addition, the AMA endorsed a new certification program for online pharmacies through the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, a group of state regulators. That program is now accepting applications designed to address the problem of so-called rogue pharmacies that sell prescription drugs illegally.

The AMA plans to upgrade its Web site to make health information more accessible to consumers.