Big changes are coming to the nation’s 60,000 pharmacies, with Amazon talking about getting into the prescription drug business and the nation’s largest chain, CVS, teaming up with health insurer Aetna to make a one-stop shop for customers. But a Consumer Reports survey of more than 78,000 members shows that, overall, people still prefer “mom and pop” pharmacies more than big chains.
These independents still are at the top of the rating chart for overall satisfaction and earn top scores for the pharmacist’s knowledge, the accuracy of filled prescription orders, and the pharmacy’s customer service, including courtesy, helpfulness, and speed of checkout and filling prescriptions.
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Pill Savvy: What to Consider
Do you have to wait for service? You’re less likely to wait at an independent pharmacy than at another type of store, according to our survey. Only 3 percent of customers at independent pharmacies reported that they waited a long time at the pharmacy counter to be helped; 18 percent said the same of pharmacy chains.
And members who used an independent pharmacist were far more likely to say that the pharmacy went out of its way to fill prescriptions faster: Forty-one percent of people said that happened at independent pharmacies vs. just 20 percent at pharmacy chains.
Are your medications in stock? Overall, 21 percent reported that a drug they needed was out of stock in the past year. As a group, independents were more likely than other types of pharmacies to fill the prescription later that same day or the next.
How much will you pay? Members who went to independent pharmacies were also more likely to report that the pharmacist suggested a lower-cost drug—21 percent—while only 9 percent reported chain pharmacists offering them a lower-price option. Worse, national chains tended to have some of the highest out-of-pocket prices. While prices at independents fell in the middle, CR members said they found the lowest prices at Costco (you don’t have to be a Costco member to fill prescriptions at the pharmacy).
CR secret shoppers found that some independent and grocery store pharmacies can offer even lower prices than Costco—you’ll just need to call around in your area and ask for their “cash” or retail price. See more below on how to save money on your meds. If you have health insurance, double-check your plan to be sure you’re getting the lowest prices at your pharmacy. Some plans—through Medicare Part D or an employer—have negotiated discounts with “preferred” pharmacies or mail-order plans.
Does your pharmacy offer discounts? Many stores offer deals on commonly prescribed generics for people who pay for the prescription outright rather than using insurance: $4 for a 30-day supply or $10 for three months’ worth. But check the fine print. There may be a small fee to sign up, and not all discount programs are open to people on Medicare, Medicaid, and Tricare (the health plan for the military).
Does your pharmacy offer preventive care? Rules vary by state, but many drugstores now offer vaccinations for chickenpox, the flu, hepatitis A and B, human papillomavirus (HPV), measles, pertussis (whooping cough), pneumonia, polio, shingles, and tetanus. Stores that provide travel immunizations, including Target and Walgreens, also cover vaccines for meningitis, typhoid, and other diseases.
Do you need personalized services? Do you ever forget to take medications? Some independent pharmacies place pills in individualized packets so that knowing which pills to take at which times is easy. Walmart and Rite Aid do something similar if you ask for the service, as does an online pharmacy called PillPack. Need customized medication? Most independents offer to the compound to tailor medication for specific needs.
Independents may also specialize in stocking certain medical items such as walkers, canes, oxygen, and ostomy supplies. Bonus: They know you. A whopping 53 percent of members said independent pharmacists knew their name. Only 14 percent of people could say the same of chain pharmacies.
Changing pharmacies isn’t difficult, but you need to follow all the steps to make sure that everyone involved in your family’s healthcare has up-to-date information. Here’s what to do.
Let the new druggist handle transfers. Much of the work to transfer prescriptions, including remaining refills, is done electronically these days. Depending on your state laws, refills for controlled substances might not transfer, in which case you’ll need to have your doctor issue a new prescription.
Do the paperwork. Your pharmacy should have a complete profile of every family member, including insurance information, medical history, and a list of every drug taken—prescription and over-the-counter—as well as vitamins, herbs, supplements, topical preparations, and even medical marijuana in states where it’s legal, including CBD-only products (cannabidiol).
Notify your doctors. It will save time and confusion later if you call your doctors’ offices and update the pharmacy information in your file.
Try to fill all prescriptions at the new store. Once you’ve found a drugstore that offers everything you need, it’s safest to fill all your prescriptions there if you can. That’s because your pharmacist can check for all possible drug interactions and alert you if there are any issues. “Jumping around might save you a few dollars here or there, but it’s bad in the long run because no one place will have a complete medical profile,” Hoey says.