Drugs - how to get prescription filled

Alternative names
Prescriptions - how to fill; Medications - how to get prescription filled; Getting a prescription fillede


Once a prescription has been written by a health care provider, the consumer may purchase the medication from various sources. Factors that affect the choice of source depend on the location and hours of the source, cost of the medication, and insurance coverage.

Questions to consider when considering a pharmacy alternative include:

  • Does the health insurance limit where prescriptions can be filled?  
  • Is the location convenient to home, school, or work?  
  • Does the pharmacy maintain patient records (preferably on computer) and monitor for drug interactions?  
  • Do employees have time and are they willing to answer drug related questions?  
  • Are the pharmacists friendly and helpful?

The most common source for obtaining prescriptions is the local pharmacy. Usually the pharmacy is located in a drug or grocery store. Independent pharmacies are also commonly used, but their numbers are decreasing because many find it hard to compete with the grocery and drug chains. A chain pharmacy (drug or grocery) may have lower prices than an independent because chain stores usually have greater buying power.

However, lower prices tend to attract more customers, which means the pharmacist may not be able to spend as much time with each patient for counseling and answering questions.

Those who belong to an HMO (Health Maintenance Organization) may be required to use a pharmacy on site (at the location of the HMO) or the HMO may have contracted with certain pharmacies to take their business. Some insurance companies have contracts with specific drug or grocery stores and some independents. This requires the individuals on these programs to go to one of these pharmacies.

Another avenue that some individuals and some insurance companies have chosen is mail-order pharmacy. Normally a prescription is sent to the mail-order pharmacy or phoned in by the physician. It may take a week or more for the prescription to arrive at the home of the patient. Therefore, mail order is best used for maintenance (long-term medications used to treat such chronic problems as high blood pressure and diabetes). Short-term medications such as antibiotics and medications that require storage at specific temperatures should be purchased at a local pharmacy.

Internet pharmacies are another option for long-term medications or buying general pharmacy supplies. The website should clearly explain the steps for filling or transferring a prescription. Make sure that the website has clearly stated privacy policies and other procedures. Avoid any website that claims a doctor can prescribe the medication without actually seeing you.

Regardless of where you go, to assist the pharmacist in filling the prescription, the following information should be clearly printed on the prescription: name of the patient, address, phone number, and health care provider’s name. A sloppy prescription may not include all of this information, or it may be illegible.

When phoning the pharmacy for a refill, the following information is helpful: prescription number, name of medication, and name of the patient.

Normally the busiest times in a pharmacy are at opening, lunch hour, and immediately after work (3:30 p.m. to about 7:30 p.m.). If it is possible to avoid these hours when dropping off or picking up a prescription, the wait may be shorter depending on the pharmacists’ backlog.

Once a pharmacy has been chosen it is best to stay with that pharmacy and not hop around to numerous pharmacies. This way an accurate drug history can be maintained on the patient. With an accurate drug history, the pharmacist can more easily check for drug interactions that may be potentially harmful to the patient or at a minimum decrease the efficacy of one or more of the medications.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 4, 2012
by Janet G. Derge, M.D.

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All ArmMed Media material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.