• Amanda Baustert

Mail Order v/s Local Pharmacy: The Pros & Cons

In today’s internet savvy, immediate gratification game, consumers are still on the fence when it comes to their prescription medications. Do we chance our blood-pressure-lowering drugs to the postal service (too bad, it’s still not available on Amazon Prime!) or do we play roulette with our heart medications at the local counter, hoping there’s not another mix up by the high school clerk? Here, we break down the pros and cons of mail order and local pharmacy.

Mail Order Pros:

  • Convenience. The meds come to you, not the other way around. A huge plus for working parents of highly-active children, or home bound elderly.

  • $avings. Mail order pharmacies create savings for consumers because they’re contracted with insurance companies. Not only does this offer a few extra pennies in your pocket, but also on the gas you would otherwise be spending to pick it up yourself at the local pharmacy.

  • Re-routes. Maybe you travel to a seasonal lake house, or you’ve suddenly been called away on business, or you spontaneously decide to stay on vacation an extra week. With mail order, you do not define your life or your time by the hours of the local pharmacy.

Mail Order Cons:

  • Long-term prescriptions only. Generally, mail order is only for medications that are taken for an extended time (ie: 6 months or more). Because of the increased risk of side effects with new prescriptions or dosage-changes, many mail order pharmacies require first (and sometimes second) fills to be done at your local pharmacy.

  • Poor communication. Many drugs have quantity limitations, prior authorization requirements, or doctor prescribing errors. Oftentimes, mail order will keep the unfilled prescription and won’t notify the patient or the doctor of the problem.

  • No holds. When your doctor sends in a prescription to the mail order pharmacy, it will automatically be filled and shipped. But what if you don’t want it yet – what if you’ve got an oversupply at home? There are certainly ways around not filling prescriptions, but it only adds another task on the consumer’s overflowing to-do list.

  • Slow delivery and high temperatures. It can take up to two weeks to receive a prescription via mail order, and that’s if it’s not lost, damaged, or sent to the wrong address. Most medications are not tested to determine the effect of extreme temperatures that shipping can cause; however, the United States can experience temperatures ranging from the teens to way above 100 degrees on any given day. This should be significant concern to patients, as these factors could result in untimely delivery or complete lack of receiving much-needed medications.

**Note: If the prescription is lost or damaged due to the fault of the mail order pharmacy, the pharmacy is responsible for replacing -- at no cost to you or your plan sponsor. However, if the order was lost or damaged in transit, you will be charged another copay.

Local Pharmacy Pros:

  • Everybody knows your name. Odds are that your local pharmacist and staff know you. There are no hold times or “press 1 to be connected to the operator.” A personal relationship with your pharmacist -- speaking directly with the person that filled your prescription and is aware of your medical and prescription history – can be vital to your healthcare. Only your local pharmacy will know your child’s inability to swallow “the orange one” or your preference for “the blue box of glucometer strips.” Many prescription errors are avoided, and medication therapy adherence is increased when face-to-face consultations occur.

  • Less chance for drug interactions to occur. If you get prescriptions from multiple pharmacies, it’s not always possible to check thoroughly for drug interactions. Mail order pharmacies are only capable of serving patients for long-term conditions; when you go to the local pharmacy in emergency or acute illness situations, the local pharmacist is likely unaware of other medications you fill through mail order. This clearly increases the risk of dangerous drug interactions.

  • Value added services. Medication management, prescription synchronization, free delivery, injection training, usage or disease education, assistance with over the counter products, vaccinations, and Medicare cost-saving are just a few of the additional services found only at a local pharmacy. And most without an appointment!

Local Pharmacy Cons:

  • Everybody knows your name. Because the local pharmacist and staff are probably also members of your community, good luck going incognito when you want to pick up your herpes medication or the kids’ lice treatment. Medical professionals, yes, but sometimes you just want to be anonymous.

  • Cost. It’s hard for local independent pharmacies to compete with the big chain stores because they don’t have the purchase power that comes in quantity buying. Mail order pharmacies are owned by the companies that manage your insurance’s prescription benefits. More and more independent pharmacies are grouping together to get the best drug prices, however that's not always the case, thus, the local stores might have to charge their customers a little extra on prescriptions.

  • Limited hours, availability, and resources. Local pharmacies do have access to specialized products; however, they might not stock a specific medication if there is infrequent demand for it in their area. Mail order pharmacies are usually more automated, stock a variety of medications, and are open 24-7. Some even utilize a central computer database, so you can fill prescriptions at any location all over the country with just the press of a button.

Any choice of healthcare, including pharmacy, is a very personal choice boiling down to what best fits your needs and the needs of your family. For me, I need...

  • A group of local pharmacies with some serious purchasing power – to keep my cost down. Because even an extra $5 a month contributes to me Starbucks addiction.

  • Up-to-date technology platforms such as online ordering because I only remember I need prescription refills at 4am when the dog wakes me up.

  • A pharmacist that knows my colorful medical history (and that of my family), but has sudden amnesia concerning my current anti-depressant when we see each other at PTO meetings 😉!

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