Medicine Safety Tips

Mail Order Pharmacy

Filling your prescription medicines can be done at either a local pharmacy or through a mail order service. But deciding on which option is best for you and your family may not entirely be your choice. Your insurance company will likely influence your decision. This means that your health insurance may require you to use a mail order service by refusing to cover the cost of your medicine if you use your local pharmacy. In some cases, they will allow you to use a local pharmacy if the medicine is needed in an emergency or to treat an acute illness. However, if regular prescription medicines are obtained from your local pharmacy, your insurance company may not cover the cost.

If you have the option to fill your prescriptions at your local pharmacy or a mail order pharmacy, you might be curious about the differences between the two. Below are some things to consider when making your decision.

“Pros” to consider with mail order pharmacy services

Understand prescription drug benefits: Contact your health insurance plan to compare price differences between filling prescriptions through mail order and compare it to prices at your local, community pharmacy. Mail order pharmacies usually provide a 90-day supply of medicine while local community pharmacies usually provide a 30-day supply. However, many large chain community pharmacies are now offering 90-day supplies of generic medicines. In these cases, your healthcare provider will need to write for a 90-day supply on the prescription.

Convenient prescription ordering & refilling: Mail order pharmacies provide services that allow you to easily submit new prescriptions and medicine refills online through a computer or smart phone application (app). Also, they provide an option to schedule multiple refills for people with chronic illnesses who may be taking more than one medicine.

Timesaving: If your pharmacy does not offer delivery service, signing up for mail order pharmacy services may save you time. You or a family member will not have to drive to the pharmacy and wait in line to pick up the medicine.

Ensured quality: Similar to community pharmacies, mail-order pharmacies have a team of pharmacists and technicians who make sure every prescription is reviewed prior to shipping your medicine(s). Additionally, staff are ready to help answer any customers’ questions through an online chat or phone call.


Mail-order pharmacy began in 1946 when the Veterans Administration (VA) initially offered mailing prescription medicines to eligible veterans’ homes. To date, the VA still makes up one-third of mail order prescriptions dispensed in the United States. The mail order pharmacy industry began expanding quickly in the 1990s due to the growth of the internet. Throughout the 2000s, more employers began offering mail order pharmacy options which further increased mail-order operations. Overall, mail order pharmacy has grown over the last half century mailing billions of prescriptions each year.

“Cons” to consider with mail order pharmacy services

Emergency medicines: Mail order pharmacies cannot provide prescription medicines in an emergency to treat an acute illness. Local pharmacies can serve patients that need medicines in emergency situations, such as when you are out of a prescription medicine and the mail order prescription has not arrived. Certain medicines, such as antibiotics, must be started immediately. In these situations, it is better to fill these prescriptions at your local pharmacy.

Starting a new medicine: If you are starting a new medicine or know that you need other medical supplies, such as syringes, to use the medicine, consider filling these prescriptions at your local pharmacy.

Lacking face-to-face interaction: Sometimes errors are made by the pharmacy staff when filling the prescription. These errors can be caught and resolved when you pick up the medicine and speak to the pharmacist about the medicine. Information about the medicine will be reviewed, such as the reason for using the medicine, the dose, how it is supposed to be taken, and how often to take it. However, mail order pharmacy services cannot offer the similar face-to-face services to answer questions about your medicines.  

Errors in communication and/or delay in delivery: Sometimes, medicines may not always arrive on time or delivery delays may occur. This can be dangerous if these are lifesaving medicines. To make sure your medicines are delivered on time, you must order the medicine online or over the phone at least two weeks prior to when the medicine will be needed.

Temperature & delivery concerns: Some medicines are temperature-sensitive, meaning extreme hot or cold temperatures could damage the medicine making it unsafe to use. If the medicine needs to be cold, most prescription bottles or packages will state either, “Store at room temperature” or “Keep refrigerated.” However, when medicines are delivered by mail, you may not know if the medicine was properly refrigerated. In addition, if the medicine needs to be refrigerated and is left on the doorstep or in the mailbox for several hours, it may be damaged if it is hot outside.

If you have any questions or concerns about your prescription plan, contact your health insurance company. If you can choose a local pharmacy or a mail order service, it is important to carefully weigh the “pros” and “cons” prior to signing up for this service. Mail order pharmacy services provide many benefits. If you receive some of your medicine from a mail order pharmacy and others at your local, community pharmacy, be sure to keep an updated list of all the medicines you take. Let the mail order service and your local pharmacy know about all the medicines you take, as soon as possible, and if there are any changes in your medicine(s).