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Make sure your website is legal

Many pharmacy owners may not be fully aware of the legal framework that governs the online trading of pharmacies. There are two kinds of pharmacy website: the first is known as a “brochure site”, a simple website advertising the pharmacy’s services; the second is an e-commerce website through which the pharmacy sells medicines. This article is the first in a series of articles on this topic and focuses on “brochure sites”.

The basic legal issues which affect even the most basic pharmacy websites include web accessibility, regulatory/compliance legislation and data protection.

In this article we look at web accessibility. Are disabled users able to access and use your pharmacy website?

The Equality Act 2010 (EA) creates a legal requirement on website providers (including pharmacy websites) to provide an accessible medium for customers and contains various sanctions for non-compliance. The EA came into effect on 1 October 2010 and replaces the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.

The EA applies to individuals and business service providers who are concerned with the provision of a service, goods or facilities to the public, whether or not this is for payment.

Under the EA, website operators have a continuing duty to make reasonable adjustments to ensure that it is not “unreasonably difficult” for disabled persons to use the service which they provide. You will have to fulfil this obligation even if you employ someone else (ie, a website developer) to build and maintain your pharmacy website. The Equality and Human Rights Commission published a statutory code of practice (“Services, public functions and associations”) in January 2011 that gives guidance on the EA. Chapter 11 relates specifically to service providers. The code can be viewed on the commission’s website at www.equalityhumanrights.com.

What is “reasonable” will depend on the circumstances in each case. A medium or large pharmacy business, for instance, is likely to be under a greater duty than a small pharmacy business.

However, there are simple things that all pharmacy website providers can do to create a more accessible site, for example, ensuring that:

  • Text and image size can be increased, background colours can be changed and that contrast levels are high enough to assist visually impaired customers
  • The website can be fully utilised through a keyboard as well as a mouse for customers with motor or visual impairments or others who may not have good hand-eye co-ordination
  • Any video/podcasts have captions/sign language versions to assist customers with hearing difficulties

The W3C Web Accessibility Initiative  (see www.w3.org/WAI/eval/Overview.html) provides some useful further details on web accessibility.

These points should be borne in mind at the time when the website is being developed to minimise the need for further expense at a later date. You should discuss with your developer the measures that could be taken to make it easier for the visually impaired to view your pharmacy website, including providing text or audio descriptions of any animations or graphics or by making a text-only version of the website available. Website developers should be familiar with the Web Accessibility Initiative and the EA and be able to recommend standard compliance features to you.

Vertex tip: you should make sure that you always have a written contract in place when dealing with website developers. Many people wrongly assume that all intellectual property (eg, copyright and design rights) created for them by a developer will be owned by them or their business because they commissioned the work and have paid for it. Unfortunately, unless the developer has signed a written contract transferring all intellectual property rights to you, the developer will own these rights and you will only have the right to use, not own, the intellectual property in the website.

It has not been possible to cover here in detail all of provisions of the EA that apply to pharmacy websites but we hope that it gives you some insight and makes clear the fact that there are important legal issues you need to be aware of when considering commissioning developers to produce or update your pharmacy website.

Vertex Law are pharmacy specialists, based at 23 Kings Hill Avenue, Kings Hill, Kent ME19 4UA.

Visit www.vertexlaw.co.uk for information or contact Nick Austen on nick.austen@vertexlaw.co.uk, 01732 224018 or Gemma Brown on gemma.brown@vertexlaw.co.uk, 01732 224053.

Citation: Community MattersURI: 11095462

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