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Time for an e-Mail Reality Check

Harold E. Cohen, RPh
Editor-in-Chief



9/21/2009

US Pharm. 2009;34(9):3. 

E-mail has certainly made personal and business communications easier and faster. The dissemination of information in virtually every form via e-mail is mind-boggling. People are using e-mail around the world to connect with family and friends thousands of miles away in just a matter of seconds. Between messaging, e-greeting cards, e-bill paying, delivery of e-catalogs, and a plethora of other e-services, the U.S. Postal Service is having a hard time maintaining a profitable business model. But as popular as e-mail has become, it is also serving up a fair share of spam and other vicious messages that generally are untrue, are doctored, or otherwise cannot be verified. While the latter are more of a nuisance to many and are easily eliminated with the click of a mouse, there are still plenty of naïve people who read these fake e-mails and take their contents as the truth without checking their references or sources. These shocking e-mails have been used to discredit everyone from the President to pop stars, including the late Michael Jackson. What makes things worse is the fact that these e-mails are being forwarded to tens of thousands of people without forethought, which simply perpetuates inaccuracies and outright lies. They are also being transmitted orally to relatives, friends, and acquaintances as fact and are the subjects of watercooler conversations.

Pharmacy has been particularly hard-hit by e-mail spam. Until now, most of the bogus e-mails I've seen have been for so-called Canadian pharmacy Web sites hawking cheap prescription drugs that can be ordered without a prescription. While most spam blockers will catch the majority of these messages before they reach our inboxes, unfortunately plenty of them still get through antispam programs. While the e-mails are annoying, most people simply ignore them or delete them immediately. But last month a friend of mine who is not a pharmacist forwarded me a particularly disturbing e-mail that featured an "analysis" comparing the cost of a drug's active ingredient to the selling price of a finished product, thus exaggerating huge profits on the part of the pharmacist who is dispensing the drug. The information in the analysis was a real joke, but I found it hard to laugh. The e-mail listed several popular prescription products, a consumer price for each product (of course it didn't show the source of the price), the cost of the active ingredient (another figment of the writer's imagination), and the ludicrous percentage of markup based solely on the so-called cost of the active ingredient compared to the consumer price of the prescription. The e-mail is supposedly from a woman who is a "Washington budget analyst" (and who isn't in Washington?) working in a "federal office" there (a federal office in Washington, DC… imagine that! How innovative).

When my friend, whom I consider a pretty intelligent fellow, questioned me on the veracity of the e-mail, I painfully tried to explain to him that the cost of the active ingredient has very little to do with the final selling price, or even the final cost, of a drug. And while these kinds of erroneous e-mails can easily be deleted, pharmacists, particularly retail pharmacists, are faced with these kinds of ridiculous assertions every day. It is time for an e-mail reality check. The pharmaceutical community must start using e-mail to its own advantage. It must communicate factual information directly to consumers about pharmacists' contributions to the health care system and the lifesaving drugs they dispense daily. E-mail can be a valuable tool, but in the wrong hands, it can become a lethal weapon. 

To comment on this article, contact editor@uspharmacist.com.

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