Written and medically reviewed by Dorcas Morak, Pharm.DOnline pharmacies, also called mail-order pharmacies, are a very common business model for handling the preparation and distribution of both prescription and over-the-counter medications. They accept orders online, fill them, and deliver the medications to the owners via mail, in contrast to traditional brick-and-mortar pharmacies.
With roughly 32,500 online pharmacies legally operating around the world, the business model, which began in the late 1990s, has gained recognition on a global scale. The benefits and drawbacks of online pharmacies have been debated since their inception. Before deciding whether online pharmacies are right for you, here is what you need to know.
What is the difference between online and traditional pharmacies?
An online pharmacy is exactly that, a pharmacy that operates online rather than in a physical store. It accepts patient orders and payments online 24/7, then delivers both prescription and over-the-counter medications to the customer’s home or work. In contrast, traditional pharmacies have a brick-and-mortar location that is accessible to the public during operating hours, though some offer home delivery as well as same-day prescription orders.
How do online pharmacies work?
To use an online pharmacy, you either need to first visit their website or download their app onto your phone or tablet. Then, you create an order by uploading a scanned copy of your prescription to the system. Your request will be received and reviewed by a pharmacist. The pharmacist will then send your prescription to the warehouse in your region to fill the prescription and deliver it to you.
What are the pros of online pharmacies?
- Access: Mail-order pharmacies give patients direct, 24/7 access to the service regardless of their location. It solves the problem of access for the elderly, the disabled, people with busy work schedules, and those who live far away from a traditional pharmacy.
- Money-saving: Prescriptions ordered by mail are often less expensive. Through an online program, you may be able to get a 90-day bulk supply, which can save you money. It’s also easy to use an rxless discount card or coupon through a mail-order pharmacy, such as PillPack, to lower the cost even more.
- Privacy and confidentiality: Online pharmacies provide added advantages for people who prefer extra privacy or avoiding picking up medications in public. You can order your medications without risking any issues with airing health information or other personal details in a public space.
- Health education: Some online pharmacies provide free health tips and resources on medicines and illnesses to customers. These resources, like the ones offered by rxless, allow customers to stay informed about different health conditions and how to manage them.
What are the cons of online pharmacies?
- Inability to accommodate same-day prescription orders: If the patient needs the medication immediately, using an online pharmacy is not an option. Often a traditional pharmacy will have the medication in stock and have your prescription filled in under an hour.
- Lack of physical interaction: Lack of physical interaction with the pharmacist remains one of the major setbacks of online pharmacy. Patients, specifically seniors, often prefer the ability to have an in-person consultation with their pharmacist. Online pharmacies also do not allow for in-person preventative health services such as flu and COVID-19 vaccines or blood pressure checks.
- Requires patients to be tech-savvy: Some individuals who are less tech-savvy may have trouble creating an account and uploading their prescription to the system without assistance.
- Possibility of unethical practice: Some illegal online pharmacies dispense medicines to patients without requiring a prescription. In such a case, the medication is not regulated and may cause harm to the patient, putting their health at risk.
How can I maximize my savings?
Whether an online pharmacy or traditional pharmacy, such as CVS, Walgreens, or Rite Aid, is right for you depends on several factors. But you can rest assured that whichever pharmacy type you choose, you can always maximize your prescription savings by using a free rxless prescription discount card.