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Top Online Pharmacies Rated; Shouldn't Be Sole Source of Health Info

Posted Sep 20 2007 12:43pm

Among the top 3 most-visited online drugstores, Walgreens.com was rated the clear choice for reliable information and ease of use by experts at HealthRatings.org, a joint project of Consumer Reports and the Health Improvement institute.

Walgreens, the most-visited site, received a “very good” rating, while the third most-visited site, RiteAid.com, earned a score of “good” and second most-visited site CVS.com earned a “fair” rating, with raters noting some information-quality concerns.

All sites were rated “excellent” on their privacy policies, an important concern for consumers shopping at online drugstores. Two of the three sites rated only “fair” for ease of use, while Walgreens rated “very good.”

Raters gave all three sites a score of “poor,” however, on disclosure of advertising and sponsorship policies, and on policies for correcting wrong, misleading or outdated information.
Even the best-rated site, Walgreens, contained some information on alternative medicine practices that raters deemed questionable. Another site displayed similarly questionable information, said the raters, about supplements for sale.

“Consumers should think of online drugstores the same way they think of drugstores you walk into,” said Beau Brendler, director of Consumer Reports WebWatch. “You shouldn’t be getting all your health information in the store, where product placement, advertising and other persuasions are at work. You might talk to the pharmacist, you’ve probably done some research, and you’ve probably had a conversation with your doctor.”

Overall, raters did find the three sites to be useful to consumers in enhancing the experience they might have at a walk-in drugstore.

About the study: Using a tool based on WebWatch’s guidelines for website credibility and HII criteria for health information, a panel of health and medical experts examined three sites in-depth over a period of more than one month, then rated each using established Consumer Reports-style methods and the familiar trademarked symbols. The list was determined using Nielsen/NetRatings and WebWatch data. Overall ratings scores were determined from 10 attributes, including identity, advertising and sponsorship disclosure, ease of use, privacy, contents, authorship, references, editorial policies and health information. The raters did not shop at the online drugstores or perform comparison-pricing tests.
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