Pharmacy Visit Demystified

Number 1: “If I use the drive-through, filling my prescription will be as quick as getting a hamburger with fries.”

This one is actually false. It will probably take longer to fill a prescription through this method. The drive-through window is great when it is used as it is intended: as a convenience for simple transactions, especially for people picking up refills on prescriptions. On the other hand, conducting more complicated business through a window and a microphone like changing an insurance , or coming to the pharmacy for the first time, can be cumbersome, and it may hold up the people in line behind you. Come inside if you will need a little extra time or attention. If you do actually need your prescription in a hurry, waiting inside will get it to you quicker.

Number 2: “Why does it take so long to fill my prescription? All you have to do is slap a label on my inhaler. You don’t even have to count anything!”

One reason filling your prescription takes some time is that most pharmacies are pretty busy and have many customers. Chances are that there are other people who have presented prescriptions or called in refills before you even arrived. You never know how many people are in line ahead of you because you don’t see all of them standing in the waiting area, but remember they are waiting just the same.
Similarly, you never know what problems are ahead of you in line. For instance, if insurance rejects payment for a prescription, the pharmacy staff may need to call the insurance to have things sorted out. This process can take many minutes depending on hold times and the nature of the issue. If staff is tied up on the phone resolving an earlier problem, they are not available to fill your prescription just yet.
Also, there is more that goes on that just pulling a medication off the shelf and slapping a sticker on it. First the prescription has to be entered manually into the computer system. Then it is filled, put in line, and finally checked off by the pharmacist. The pharmacist must ensure there are no errors. If errors exist, this can increase your wait time. Sometimes the fix is simple, but other times, especially if there is a worrisome drug interaction or if the doctor made an error, it may take some time to resolve the issue. Luckily, pharmacists are generally more committed to delivering prescriptions that are filled safely and correctly than to those that are delivered quickly but this may mean a longer wait for you.

Number 3: “My medication didn’t cost that much last month! Why did the price change?”

There are a whole host of reasons why your cost for a drug may have changed since your last visit to the pharmacy. The most common reason is that your insurance plan changed, and you may or may not have been notified. Unfortunately, neither was the pharmacy. Pharmacy staff simply transmits your prescription information electronically to the insurance and the insurance then transmits the portion the patient is to pay, also called a co-pay. Sometimes insurances will have what is called a deductable, or an amount of out of pocket expense you must incur before co-pay kicks in. This usually happens either with a calendar new year or an insurance fiscal new year or even a year from your enrollment date. Remember that if you switch jobs or your job switches insurance plans, things are likely to change. You can not expect the same co-pays from every plan.

Finally, if you are paying for medications without insurance, drug prices do fluctuate and can also potential change. Most people have no idea what the medications they are taking actually cost because all they ever see is the portion they pay, their co-pay. They are insulated from the actual cost because the insurance picks up the remainder. Remember that your $40 prescription may actually cost $285 if you were to purchase it without insurance.