Getting my prescription online almost killed me

Convenience can come at a cost nobody can afford.


For many Australians, going to the doctor has become time consuming and expensive. We've seen a decrease in medical centres offering bulk billing and a rise in services for online prescriptions, which are a highly convenient alternative for those of us who find ourselves too busy to take time out.

I developed a urinary tract infection and decided to use an online script service for the first time in 2022, thinking it would clear up within a few days. Little did I know, I'd be rushed to hospital, turning septic within a week.

Phone screen displaying website of online prescription service; Abbey Smith in hospital bed
Online prescriptions are becoming more popular but what at what cost? Source: Supplied

Quick and easy

I'd never used an online script service before, but when the familiar sting of a urinary tract infection (UTI) began, I decided maybe this time would be okay.

The website was easy to use and I provided standard information about my infection and what I believed I needed. After a fee of $17.50 was deducted from my credit card, I had my prescription sent straight to my inbox.

I dropped in to my local chemist on the way to work and was only asked if I'd used the antibiotic before and whether I needed to be instructed on its use. I declined and off I went thinking how quick and easy the process was and how I'd use it again.

Something's not right

As many women who've had a UTI know, usually the symptoms start to subside within a few days. Mine didn't. I wondered why the antibiotics hadn't kicked in, but stayed the course, thinking maybe it was just an extra severe infection this time.

I went to work and shivered my way through my shift. It was Mother's Day and I knew everyone else would be with their families, but as my parents live in another state, I decided I'd take one for the team and would just have to get through the day. My lips were turning blue and no matter what, I couldn't warm myself up.

Abbey Smith taking selfie in hospital mirror
I spent four days in hospital with horrific symptoms including rigours and temperatures exceeding 39 degrees. Source: Supplied

Being a Sunday and knowing something just wasn't right, I went to the hospital emergency room and asked to be seen by a doctor. After a wait of almost eight hours and a few blood tests I was told my white blood cell count was fine and to head home.

Just 24 hours later, after I experienced rigours, a fever and hallucinations of my deceased nanna, pop and first boyfriend, my housemate rushed me to the emergency room where I was told I was turning septic. The infection had spread to my blood and I was admitted to hospital on the spot.

Wrong antibiotic

After four days of treatment, plenty of tears and hours of sleep, the infection finally broke and I was told what went wrong. Before I was discharged a doctor explained the bug in my system was E. coli, a common cause of UTIs which is resistant to the antibiotic I was given. No wonder my infection hadn't cleared up after taking it.

Since my ordeal, I've spoken to several other women who have been through the same thing as me, or know someone who has.

The price of convenience

While convenience is often cited as the reason people use online script services, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) says face-to-face consultations are still best. "If a patient has a health issue which requires follow-up, like a complicated UTI, they'll get safe care from a GP who knows their medical history," RACGP President Dr Nicole Higgins confirmed.

"Face-to-face is always the best option as there are clinical issues that are hard to spot even via Telehealth service," she explained.

If you are too busy to see a doctor in person, it's best to book a telehealth appointment with your regular GP. "You're better off receiving telehealth from the GP you usually see or another at the same clinic who can access your medical history and coordinate with services in your area," Higgins added.

Abbey Smith resting on couch under a blanket
I'm still battling constant fatigue as I recover from the infection. Source: Supplied

Never again

A year since the infection, I don't feel like my health has ever been what it was but I'm slowly starting to bounce back.

My experience has stopped me from using online prescription services altogether. These days, if I'm feeling unwell, I book into my local GP and take the time to go over my medical history.

Online scripts may work in many cases, but I never want to experience what I went through again.

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