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What is a Mail Order Pharmacy?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 29 August 2016
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A mail order pharmacy is a pharmacy which delivers drugs to patients through the mail directly to their homes, rather than requiring patients to show up at the pharmacy to pick up prescriptions. Mail order pharmacies have a number of advantages which make them appealing to patients, with most having very competitive prices which make using their services cost effective. Patients can access mail order pharmacies by asking for recommendations from doctors, finding out if their current pharmacy offers mail order options, or by searching for mail order pharmacies online.

These pharmacies are designed for use by people who take regular medications on a long-term basis. For example, mail order pharmacies can fill blood pressure medications, birth control, depression medication, pain management drugs, and other medications which people will routinely need, with the pharmacy providing a supply which is good for up to three months, depending on the medication. Urgently needed medications like antibiotics or new prescriptions of drugs which patients need to start using right away should be filled at a local pharmacy, although people may be able to arrange for delivery service if they have trouble getting to the pharmacy.

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At a mail order pharmacy, prescriptions can be faxed, mailed, or phoned in. The pharmacy staff check the prescription, look at the patient record to confirm that the prescription will not conflict with existing medications, and then dispense it and mail it out. For new patients, the pharmacy may have an intake process which includes full disclosure of the medications the patient is using, along with information about his or her medical history.

The prices at a mail order pharmacy can sometimes be cheaper, because they don't have to maintain the overhead costs involved in running a store. Most accept insurance for payment, along with cash payments, and delivery can be expedited if medications are needed in a hurry. The delivery directly to the patient's door can also be a big advantage for patients with debilitating chronic conditions which keep them primarily homebound.

The quality of products from a mail order pharmacy is comparable to the products offered at other pharmacies. However, patients should be aware that some companies run mail order pharmacies in a legal gray area, with the goal of selling high volumes of medication and not necessarily providing attentive care to patients. These pharmacies may, for example, allow people without a prescription to fill out an Internet “consultation” with a doctor who will prescribe the medication the patient asks for, and some sell expired or counterfeit drugs, which is illegal. Patients should take care to work with a licensed pharmacy, and they can ask a patient advocacy organization or business bureau for help with identifying a safe mail order pharmacy.

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