Lots of things can keep you from picking up a prescription at your local pharmacy. You may be stuck at home because of disability, illness, social distancing, or a lack of transportation.
But the longer you go without your medication, the more your health is at risk. That's why it's important to know how to use home delivery services that bring prescriptions right to your door.
Local pharmacy delivery
Just like in the old days, some local pharmacies still send their own staffers to deliver prescriptions to their customers. The pharmacies are usually small and independently owned. You might expect that kind of service from them.
But what about large retail chain drugstores or pharmacies in big-box or grocery stores? Nowadays, they deliver, too.
They may have their own in-house delivery service, usually a courier company they've contracted; or they may partner with a grocery delivery company such as Instacart (www.instacart.com) or Shipt (www.shipt.com). Check to see which company your pharmacy works with.
Using an online pharmacy that exists only as a Web store and ships medications to you can be helpful for obtaining drugs you don't need immediately, particularly those used to manage chronic illnesses (such as diabetes, high cholesterol, or heart conditions).
But many online pharmacies have a bad reputation. "One government study a few years ago noted that 97% of online pharmacies are rogue pharmacies, with medications that may come from places that have unapproved manufacturing processes or questionable business practices," notes Joanne Doyle Petrongolo, a pharmacist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.
Rogue online pharmacies may sell counterfeit medications with unsafe ingredients or products that are expired, mislabeled, or mishandled. But not all online pharmacies are rogue. How can you tell the difference?
"The pharmacy needs to have a symbol on its website showing that it's legitimate and has been approved by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP)," Doyle Petrongolo advises.
The symbol should say "NABP Accredited Digital Pharmacy," unless the pharmacy uses an older symbol (from before February 2020) that says VIPPS, which stands for Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites.
One example of a large online NABP-approved pharmacy is Amazon's new pharmacy service, PillPack.
You can look on the NABP website (www.health.harvard.edu/adp) to find other accredited online pharmacies.
Available through insurance
Some insurance companies (such as Aetna) or large managed care health groups (such as Kaiser Permanente) have mail-order pharmacies just for members. Plan members can go online and order medications (typically those used to manage chronic illnesses), which are then delivered to their homes.
An added benefit: the pharmacies often provide medications at a discount, and they may also have cost calculators on their websites so you can see in advance how much you'll save.
The drawbacks of delivery
While having medications delivered to your door is convenient — and crucial if you're homebound — the process does have risks and drawbacks.
Delayed mail delivery. "Sometimes delivery can be delayed because of lower staffing due to social distancing and increased workload due to high volume. Or the medication may be stuck in facilities without enough staff to sort packages and put them on the trucks," Doyle Petrongolo says. "Blizzards, hurricanes, and tornadoes can also affect how fast your medication gets to you."
Missed packages. "It's very helpful to be home to receive the package," Doyle Petrongolo says. "But sometimes people aren't home or can't answer the door, and the package can go missing."
No personal touch. "One of the major drawbacks to any online pharmacy service is that patients lose that personal touch they would normally receive when speaking with a local pharmacist," Doyle Petrongolo says.
Tips to get started
In most cases, getting prescriptions delivered to your home requires you to create an account on the website of the pharmacy or the delivery service you're using. You'll have to share personal data, such as your name, address, and credit card information.
You'll also need to get your prescription to the pharmacy. Your doctor might be able to call it in or send it electronically; if not, you may be able to "upload" the prescription (submit a photo of the prescription via the pharmacy website) or mail the prescription to the pharmacy.
If you're using a grocery delivery service to get your prescription, you'll need to specify a time for delivery, and you may need to include some extra money (when you place the order on the website) for the delivery person.
When should you order?
If you need medications right away, order them as soon as possible. "Even expedited requests can take up to 72 hours if they're through a mail-order pharmacy. Local pharmacies may be able to accommodate an urgent, same-day request if they have the staff in place to get it to you," Doyle Petrongolo says.
For refills, don't wait until the last second. "If you get a 30-day supply of a medication, you may be able to fill it at day 21, one week before you run out," Doyle Petrongolo explains. "If you get a 90-day supply, the insurance will allow a refill around day 70 to 75 of the prescription."
The rules may be different if the medication is for pain or anxiety, however. Depending on your state's laws, you might not be able to get a refill until a day or two before the due date.
A number of other strategies can help if you're using home delivery.
Set up automatic refills. You can access this feature on the pharmacy website. This is especially helpful if you have trouble remembering to get your prescriptions refilled.
Consider a staggered refill schedule. "Some people may want to have all the refills scheduled at the same time. For others, it may be difficult for them to pay all of the refill co-pays at once," Doyle Petrongolo says.
Keep track of orders. Keep a list or chart to record when you order your medications and when they are scheduled to arrive. "If you haven't received the medications within three to five days of when you expect them to arrive, call the pharmacy for a status update," Doyle Petrongolo advises.
Get to know your pharmacy's staff. "People who have good relationships with their health care teams usually get the best service," Doyle Petrongolo says.
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