Finding the time to get to the pharmacy can be difficult, especially when you live in a rural area, struggle with mobility or simply feel too unwell to leave home. Online pharmacy services can help by delivering what you need straight to your door — and in most cases, the medications cost significantly less than they do at brick-and-mortar pharmacies.
What is an online pharmacy?
An online pharmacy — sometimes called a mail-order pharmacy — is like any other pharmacy, except it operates over the Internet. Instead of going to the pharmacy in person, you fill your order online and the pharmacy sends it to you by mail. It might also refill your prescription without a call.
How do online pharmacies work?
With online pharmacies, you order the medicine, vitamins, health supplements and even everyday toiletries, and the pharmacy processes your order. Delivery is within a few days.
The process varies slightly when it comes to prescription medicine. You can order and pay online, but you must first send your prescription to the online pharmacy — or ask your doctor or another medical professional to do so on your behalf — before you can get your medication.
Are online pharmacies licensed?
Online pharmacies must be licensed in all states they service. They also need to hold one or more accreditations with a National Association Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) program.
There are four main accrediting organizations in the US:
- Verified-Accredited Wholesale Distributors (VAWD)
- Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (VIPPS)
- Utilization Review Accreditation Commission (URAC)
- Accreditation Commission for Health Care (ACHC)
Is it safe to have prescription drugs delivered?
Yes. Licensed and accredited online pharmacies use controlled distribution systems, which validates drugs’ safety and confirms they contain the proper active ingredients.
As for shipping, online pharmacies mail temperature-sensitive drugs in appropriate packaging.
Ask an expert: What are the pros and cons of using online pharmacies?
There are many benefits to using an online pharmacy, which largely break down into two categories: convenience and price.
First, online pharmacies are more convenient because they ship medications directly to your door, so you don’t have to deal with the hassle of waiting in line at a pharmacy in-person. During COVID-19, this benefit is magnified for a customer because they won’t have to risk unnecessary exposure. You can easily place refills or reach a pharmacist all from the convenience of your mobile device or laptop. If you use an online pharmacy like Honeybee Health that doesn’t require insurance, then you get the added benefit of being able to order larger refills (such as a 90-day supply). This means you only have to order medications every three months instead of every month. Lastly, many online pharmacies offer a voluntary automatic refill service so you don’t have to worry about running out of medications.
Second, online pharmacies can be one of the most effective ways to save money on your prescription medications. Specifically, look for an online pharmacy that allows you to pay out-of-pocket (the cash price) instead of going through insurance. Many people don’t realize this, but the out-of-pocket cost of generic prescription medications is often significantly lower than your copay. Buying your medications directly from a no-insurance pharmacy like Honeybee Health can save you up to 80% on your medications.
The main con to keep in mind with online pharmacies is that they are better for certain types of medications. If you are taking medications to treat a chronic condition such as type 2 diabetes, anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, hypothyroidism, and more, then an online pharmacy is a great fit for you. However, if you need short-term medications for immediate treatment (such as an antibiotic) or a brand-name medication, then it might be better to stick with a pharmacy you can visit in-person. That’s because, with an online pharmacy, you can’t always get your medication on the same day that you place an order.
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How much can I expect to pay at an online pharmacy?
Generally, you’ll pay less: With lower operating costs than physical pharmacies, online pharmacies often pass the savings along in the form of lower costs. You might even get a large supply — for instance, two months of your prescription medicine for the price of one.
Most pharmacies require you to pay for delivery if you don’t meet a specific order amount. Delivery costs range from $7 to $15 for standard delivery and $10 to $20 for express, depending on the pharmacy and package weight.
What are the benefits of using an online pharmacy?
These are the main benefits of ordering medications through an online pharmacy:
- Cost savings. Since they have less overhead costs, online pharmacies tend to have much cheaper prices — and many also offer discount cards, coupons and other forms of financial assistance.
- Convenience. If you need recurrent prescription refills or have limited access to brick-and-mortar stores, using an online pharmacy can help you stay on top of your medications.
What should I look out for with an online pharmacy?
Online pharmacies are convenient and can be cheaper than physical stores. But you’ll want to stick with legitimate, trusted pharmacies and account for extra vigilance and setup:
- Overseas, fake or rogue pharmacies. Pharmacies that aren’t licensed and regulated by the FDA may not provide accurate advice or quality products.
- Insurance coverage. Not all online pharmacies are covered by all plans. For ease, ask your insurance company for a list of online pharmacies it works with.
- Lack of e-prescription. If you can’t send your prescription to the pharmacy online or through fax, you may have to send your prescription by mail to receive your medication.
- Verify pharmacy has a physical address. While you’re at it, confirm that an online pharmacy is licensed in the US with the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy at 847-391-4406 or at nabp.pharmacy.
How can I get a prescription online?
Some insurance companies and pharmacies allow you to meet with a doctor online or through a telehealth portal. If the medical professional agrees that you need a medical prescription, they will submit a request for the prescription to the pharmacy of your choice.
Exceptions to this process vary by state but often involve controlled substances that require strict regulations and control. For such medicines, you may need to schedule an in-office visit with a physician before you can receive a prescription.
Can an online pharmacist give medical advice?
Online pharmacists can’t offer you a diagnosis, but they can advise you about the best over-the-counter medications for your symptoms and when you should see a doctor. They can also discuss the side effects and potential interactions of your medications.
Getting your prescriptions mailed to you can save both time and money, but you’ll need to make sure you’re dealing with a certified pharmacy before placing any orders. When searching for low-cost prescriptions, reach out to your health insurance provider — they should be able to suggest alternative options.