Why I get my medications delivered to my home—and you should, too
We all know there are problems when it comes to filling prescription medication. From medication non-adherence to spiking drug costs, these problems don’t stem from a legacy model of pharmacy dispensation — they are, in fact, the product of an unwieldy healthcare system.
Take, for example, an online flash poll of over 1,000 U.S. adults conducted by “PawnGuru,” that revealed as many as 44% of American consumers skipped at least one medically necessary prescription because of cost, within the last year alone. Or this research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showing that more than 125,000 deaths in the United States were caused directly by medication non-adherence in 2017. Medication non-adherence includes a range of intentional and unintentional misuse. Patients may be understandably confused or overwhelmed by their prescription regimen or are often concerned about the cost of their treatment and lack of personal support.
The CDC estimates the cost to American consumers of medication misuse and non-adherence is close to $300 billion each year.
One solution to these problems is now coming into center stage: home delivery. In fact, today more pharmacies than ever offer some type of home delivery to patients in their community, often using a “central fill” model. The term central fill refers to the process of dispensing prescription medications from a central location rather than onsite at a small or medium pharmacy. With this centralized distribution system, pharmacists can maximize the number of scripts they can fill in a given time. The advent of online pharmacies, combined with technology that improves the mail-order experience, creates significantly enhanced options for patients. The role of the pharmacist is critical in the healthcare continuum. The pharmacist serves as the last link in the chain to ensure patient safety and medication adherence — and leveraging technology in this role is becoming increasingly recognized as a means to combat an ever-increasing conundrum caused by medication non-adherence.
Traditionally, when a doctor prescribes medication, he or she asks patients for their preferred pick-up location, sends the prescription over the computer or calls it in by phone, and then patients pick up the medication in person. At this point, patients are on their own. As previously suggested, when patients are left to their own devices, a host of problems may erupt.
Medication delivery isn’t just about convenience. It’s a real solution to real problems.
There’s a lot of value derived for the entire healthcare ecosystem when patients opt to have their medicine delivered to their home. Here are five examples:
1. Saves time and money
Aside from the obvious money and time spent on traveling to the pharmacy, consumers can save substantial capital when receiving medication in bulk. Most mail-order pharmacies dispense ninety-day-supply quantities and, depending on a range of factors, patients can likely buy more in a single transaction. A pharmacy typically charges patients a dispensing fee in addition to the cost of the medicine, so fewer prescription refills can pass savings directly onto a patient.
2. Provides the convenience of same day delivery
For patients who require ongoing chronic medication (about 157 million Americans in 2022), utilizing the postal service for medication delivery works just fine. Turnaround time from the time the pharmacy receives the script to the time the medication gets delivered to a patient is under three days for ninety percent of medication orders. However, patients who require acute prescription treatment or suffer from conditions that require immediate attention (e.g., a cold or flu) can usually benefit from same day delivery. Most chain stores and larger health systems provide this expedited service at no cost, and there are a growing number of retail pharmacies that are investing in courier infrastructures to offer patients the same service.
3. Furnishes free advice and drug counseling by phone
Most states legally require mail-order pharmacies to provide drug counseling by phone. At the very least, the pharmacy must inform the patient about his or her right to receive this information via phone call. Most pharmacies go above and beyond, and offer free consultations twenty-four hours a day.
4. Gets rid of the headache that comes with filling a prescription
As a patient, have you ever tried to get a medication, only to find the pharmacy is out of stock? Centralized dispensing allows a pharmacist to simply transfer your prescription to a location that has it in stock, preventing any delays in order fulfillment.
5. Delivers greater overall patient care potential
Improved patient care may be achieved by pharmacies using centralized fulfillment (i.e., central fill). Centralizing pharmacy fulfillment can help reduce manual dispensation errors, improve medication adherence with multi-dose packaging, and enable clinical care services like prescription counseling and patient support programs.
The onus falls on the entire system to empower patients to select the right options for them. In fact, the immediate steps physicians can take and the immediate steps patients can take are one and the same: be knowledgeable and aware of what capabilities are available, and understand how to take action. Prescribers should take the proactive approach of educating patients that mail-order prescriptions are a sound way to decrease medication non-adherence. Patients must understand that medication delivery is valuable and available. Patients and doctors should work together to align chronic medication refill dates to be on the same day of the month and these medication scripts should be written in a way that allows the patient to purchase in bulk, if desired. From here, to garner the benefits of direct-to-consumer care today is as simple as selecting a vendor that is outfitted with home delivery capabilities.
As healthcare providers, we must encourage patients to get medications delivered to their home, when medically appropriate.
As outlined above, this method of filling prescriptions is better for patients and helps the whole healthcare system function at a high degree of efficiency.
There are numerous vendors offering home delivery of medications. In general, large health systems like Kaiser Permanente, HCA Healthcare, and Dignity Health’s NimbleRx can help patients navigate to appropriate pharmacies. Large insurers that are partnered with various mail order services like OptumRx, Express Scripts and CVS Caremark all own mail order pharmacies. Companies like Walgreens, Rite-Aid and Publix offer free medication delivery through their website or mobile applications. Patients can learn about home delivery services by calling the number on the back of their insurance cards. They should expect to have to fill out an enrollment application and make an online or phone payment. As of late, large online pharmacies are getting a lot of attention; companies like Alto Pharmacy, Truepill, Capsule, NowRx, Amazon Pharmacy, Costco, and Healthwarehouse.com (to name a few). These pharmacies are generally licensed in all fifty states and provide quick and affordable service.
I also recommend the use of smaller, yet still highly competent, technology-driven pharmacies. A growing number of mom-and-pop drug stores offer at-home delivery. Patients can inquire within their local drugstore or call their pharmacist directly to enroll in their mail-delivery services. Note that some medications may require a signature upon delivery.
These are a few of the solutions that are live and available today. My mission is to help educate prescribers and patients that there is a better method of care delivery, and to help remove the technology barriers that prevent a prescriber from reaching patients directly in their homes. The future of direct-to-patient care is growing and now is the time to be hopeful that technology can help us achieve a better and healthier community.
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