Medical Encyclopedia


Medical Encyclopedia

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Getting a prescription filled

Contents of this page:


Pharmacy alternatives
Pharmacy alternatives

Alternative Names    Return to top

Prescriptions - how to fill; Medications - how to get prescription filled; Drugs - how to get prescription filled; Pharmacy - Mail order; Pharmacy - Internet; Types of pharmacies

Information    Return to top

Once you receive a prescription from your health care provider, you may buy the medication from various sources. Factors that may affect where you purchase your prescription include the pharmacy's location and hours of operation, cost of the medication, and insurance coverage.

Questions to consider when choosing a pharmacy include:


The most common place for filling a prescription is a local "chain" pharmacy 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.

Chain pharmacies may have lower prices than an independent, but they are also busier. While lower prices tend to attract more customers, busier pharmacies mean the pharmacist may not be able to spend as much time with each patient for counseling and answering questions.

If you belong to an HMO (Health Maintenance Organization), you may be required to use an on-site pharmacy (at the location of the HMO), or the HMO may require you to use certain pharmacies. Your insurance company may have a contract with specific drug or grocery stores or independent pharmacies, which means you must use one of these pharmacies.


Some individuals and some insurance companies have chosen to use mail-order pharmacies. 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 long-term medications that treat chronic problems such 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.

To assist the pharmacist in filling the prescription, make sure the following information is 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, during 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, your wait may be shorter.

It is best to fill all prescriptions with the same pharmacy, so you have an accurate record of what drugs you are currently taking or that you have taken in the past. An accurate drug history allows your pharmacist to more easily check for potentially harmful drug interactions, or interactions that may decrease the effectiveness of your medications.

References    Return to top

US Food and Drug Administration. Buying prescription medicine online: A consumer safety guide. Updated August 14, 2008. Accessed March 14, 2009.

US Food and Drug Administration. FDA’s tips for taking medicines. Updated July 2001. Accessed March 14, 2009.

American Association of Retired Persons. Get to know your pharmacist. Updated October 30, 2007. Accessed March 14, 2009.

American Association of Retired Persons. Prescription drug benefits in managed care. Updated May 8, 2003. Accessed March 14, 2009.

Update Date: 3/14/2009

Updated by: Linda Vorvick, MD, Family Physician, Seattle Site Coordinator, Lecturer, Pathophysiology, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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