It’s a world of technology and accessibility. With online shopping, fast shipping, and one-click purchases available at our fingertips, it’s clear why people may want that same convenience with their healthcare. But is the most convenient option really the most beneficial? What many don’t know is that their local pharmacy offers that same great convenience but with quality care to back it up.
Patients’ medications are personal – and having prescriptions filled from a warehouse across the country by strangers is the opposite of personal. Choosing the right pharmacy is as important as choosing the right doctor, and patients should trust their health with someone who gets to know them.
Why is picking a pharmacy so important?
Many people put a lot of thought into picking a doctor – they look around, ask questions, and sometimes change their minds after visiting. But research shows that the average person sees their pharmacist 7 to 10 times more often than they see their doctor, so it’s even more important to put the same level of thought into picking the right pharmacist. When choosing a pharmacist and pharmacy, it’s important to look for a pharmacy that can fulfill all healthcare needs, not just filling one prescription. Using multiple pharmacies to fill different prescriptions can mean that no one pharmacy knows everything that the patient needs, and still may not account for over-the-counter medications taken as well. This can lead to negative drug interactions or side effects because the pharmacy team doesn’t’ have the full picture.
Finding the right pharmacy does not need to be a long or difficult process. And if you’re a pharmacy that provides high quality patient care, these are some of the questions that the staff should easily be able to answer should a patient ask:
Does the pharmacist take the time to talk with the patient about their medications and answer all their questions?
Does the pharmacy team offer a variety of health and wellness services such as immunizations, diabetes management, asthma control, or other health-related offerings?
Does the pharmacy team seem genuinely interested in the patient’s health care needs?
Does the pharmacy offer recommendations on over-the-counter products and inform the patient which ones NOT to take with certain prescriptions?
Why should someone choose an independent pharmacy?
The list of services offered at a local independent pharmacy is continually growing and evolving to best serve communities. Pharmacists work closely with local prescribers to ensure patients have all the information and guidance needed to live a long and healthy life. It’s important for consumers to take advantage of the numerous ways independent pharmacies can help. The National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) conducted a census of community pharmacists in the United States, and they reported that in 2021: ¹
88% consider themselves full line pharmacies
92% provide wound care
91% provide medication synchronization
77% offer compliance packaging
87% administer flu shots
70% offer delivery
It is not always about the fastest option or the most convenient one. The patient’s health is too important to settle for just convenience.
Benefits of an Independent Pharmacy vs. Mail Order
The convenience of getting medications delivered in the mail may seem like a perk, but there are some significant risks associated with it. According to the 2021 NCPA Digest, ¹
60% of community pharmacists reported that patients had mail order medication left outside rather than being delivered to the patient directly. Medications can lose their effectiveness when left in too hot or too cold of temperatures.
44% reported patients getting the wrong amount of a drug.
26% said patients received the wrong medicine.
25% reported patients’ medication going to the wrong address.
98% have had patients that received the delivery late or never received their medication at all.
An article from Consumer Action for a Strong Economy (CAS) states, “While mailing a prescription may sound routine, most patients forced to wait for these services are those with complex or life-threatening conditions such as cancer. Delaying these treatments can have serious repercussions for these patients’ health and potentially lessens their outlook.” ² It’s important for a patient to compare the perceived convenience of mail order to the benefits of working with a local pharmacy before opting in.
Other benefits of working directly with an independent pharmacy include:
One-on-one medication counseling
When using mail-order services, there is no way of knowing who is filling your prescription from month to month. It may not even be a pharmacist filling it. The lack of two-way communication puts patients at higher risk because they may not be aware of changes in the patient’s health or any medication side effects experienced. A local pharmacist should make the patient feel comfortable in asking questions and offer a faster response to any medication or health needs.
Mail order pharmacies are only able to provide the medications themselves. Local pharmacies offer a variety of complementary services to address overall health. Providing recommendations on supplements, access to a pharmacist who can answer any questions or issues that may arise, and regular follow-ups to ensure the patient gets the quality care they deserve.
When receiving medications in the mail, there are multiple risks that are completely out of the patient’s control. What happens if the doctor forgets to send in a prescription or refills for a few days? Now, not only does the patient not have their medications, but they will also have to wait days or maybe even weeks for them to arrive. Alternatively, mail order companies may have outdated information and automatically send refills for medications that are no longer needed. Now there is a large supply of unnecessary medications on-hand, increasing the risk of taking the wrong medication.
Benefits of an Independent Pharmacy vs. Chain
Often people list convenience as the number one reason they choose a chain over an independent pharmacy. Whether it is their hours of operation or a larger selection of products, the flexibility they offer is just about the only benefit they provide compared to independent pharmacies. According to a 2018 Consumer Reports’ survey, “Independent pharmacies earned high scores on such measures as courtesy, helpfulness, and speed of checkout and filling prescriptions, as well as pharmacists’ knowledge and accuracy. At the bottom, large national chain pharmacies.” ³
Let’s review some of the myths and misconceptions about independent pharmacies compared to chain pharmacies.
Myth: Independent pharmacies are more expensive.
According to that same Consumer Reports’ survey, independent pharmacies do better than big chain drugstores with regards to cost. Members who went to independent pharmacies were also more likely to report that the pharmacist suggested a lower-cost drug—21 percent—while only nine percent reported chain pharmacists offering them a lower-price option. Worse, national chains tended to have some of the highest out-of-pocket prices. While prices at independents fell in the middle, CR members said they found the lowest prices at Costco. CR secret shoppers found that some independent and grocery store pharmacies can offer even lower prices than Costco—you will just need to call around in your area and ask for their "cash" or retail price. ³
Myth: Independent pharmacies do not have what I need.
Overall, 21 percent of Consumer Reports members reported that a drug they needed was out of stock in the past year. As a group, independents were more likely than other types of pharmacies to fill the prescription later that same day or the next. Members who used an independent pharmacist were also more likely to say that the pharmacy went out of its way to fill prescriptions faster; 41 percent of people said that happened at independent pharmacies compared to just 20 percent at pharmacy chains. ³
Myth: Independent pharmacies do not accept my insurance.
Every year, independent pharmacies must combat the misconception that, because they are small, they do not accept most insurance. Larger insurance companies, many of which own pharmacies themselves, spend a lot of time and money each year telling patients that they are required to use certain pharmacies to fill their prescriptions. Oftentimes, consumers can use a local pharmacy, they just don’t know it.
A pharmacist may be the health professional a person sees most often. It’s important for a patient to take advantage of the many ways a pharmacist can help manage their health and medications. Pharmacists work closely with doctors and nurses to be able to give expert information and guidance about certain health conditions. All this information and all these services are available at local pharmacies… now that sounds like convenience!