Renewing Prescriptions through a Mail-Order Pharmacy Without Running Out of Medicine
Have you ever used a mail-order pharmacy?
If You Have Used A Mail-Order Pharmacy...
Mail-Order Pharmacies are Very Common
If you order your prescriptions or other medicines through a mail-order pharmacy, such as in typical 3-month supplies, you are not alone. Many people now enjoy great discounts purchasing their routine or maintenance medicines this way, and some insurance companies even require it. There are even mail-order veterinary pharmacies for your pets' prescriptions!
Important caveat to the reader: I am far from an expert on mail-order pharmacies in general. However, I am surrounded by people who use them and I use a mail-order pharmacy for a prescription for my dog, River. I devised the method described in this article for ensuring that I never run out of my dog's medicine. The concept is analogous to that of a human with only one or two prescriptions being sent to a mail-order pharmacy, however any more than two mail-order prescriptions and it might be cumbersome.
The main problem with mail-order pharmacies: running out of medicine due to difficult planning as the existing prescription order starts to run out and before the new supply has arrived in the mail.
Fortunately, there is an easy way to tell when it's time to re-order through the mail-order pharmacy--without being in much danger of running out of medicine.
The First Steps to Successful Prescription Mail-Ordering
First, find out how long the mail-order pharmacy provider's stated average time is for you to receive the medicine you are taking specifically. Usually they say 8-10 business days (or two full weeks, or 14 days, though my prescription always arrives much sooner).
Set Aside Enough Pills to Last Through Ordering and Shipping
Do this step as soon as you receive a new order of pills:
Get a cheap 7-day pill reminder container and fill it with enough pills to last you through the mail-order pharmacy's refill, handling, and shipping time plus a few days (more than a few if they have been unreliable in the past or if it is critical medicine).
For example, when you first get a new bottle of medicine that requires 5-7 business days to ship, take out your pill reminder container and put two pills in each day's box, for a total of 9 pills, assuming the worst-case scenario of 7 business days (2 weekend days).
That way, if the provider takes two full weeks to ship the medicine, or if the doctor needs to be contacted but is out of the office for days, delaying the process, then you'll still have enough medicine to last until the mail order medicine arrives.
Use the Mail-Order Prescription Pharmacy Calculator that I developed (below) to figure this out.
Original Prescription Container: Use These Pills First
Use Pills from the Original Prescription Container First
With your appropriate reserve supply (see the calculator below to determine this), set aside in the weekly reminder case, you can then simply use up most of the pills in the prescription container(s) and then request a re-order as you begin running low in the original container.
IMPORTANT: Contact the mail-order pharmacy for a refill when you are down to just a few days’ supply of pills remaining in the original prescription container(s)!
Container with Pills Set-Aside to Cover the Reordering Time Period
Use the Set-Aside Pills from the 7-Day Reminder Container
Until the mail-order pharmacy has sent you the new order of pills, use the pills in the 7-day reminder container. When the new batch arrives, you'll want to put any old pills from that container aside and refill the 7-day reminder boxes with brand-new pills.
The set-aside pills can probably (statistically) go safely into the new bottle of pills since they will land on top and you will be using up this supply of pills within 3 months, worst case, any way. (Assuming you order in the standard 3-month increments.)
Introduction to The Mail-Order Pharmacy Prescription Renewal Calculator
Below is a renewal calculator that you can use to help figure out how many pills to keep in reserve and when to renew the prescription.
Note: ALWAYS assume the worst case scenario when filling out this form. For example, if the pharmacy says it will be there in 5-7 business days, assume 7 business days (or longer if you have a history of that expectation with the mail-order pharmacy).
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The Mail-Order Pharmacy Prescription Renewal Calculator
A. # Business days needed to contact the Dr. for a refill: ___________
B. # Business days the mail-order Pharmacy needs to process that refill: __________
C. # Business days for shipping and handling: __________
D. # Weekend days that could fall during this timeframe, (A through C):___________
E. Now, add A + B + C + D to get the Total Days: _________________
Note that this Total Days = the number of calendar days worth of medicine you need to save in reserve, worst case scenario, before your new prescription refill should arrive in the mail.
....So, exactly how many pills/doses do you need to set aside?
F. # Pills/doses of medicine needed (maximum) per day = _______________
G. Now, multiply F X E to get the Total Pills/Doses = _____________
Note that the Total Pills/Doses equals the number of individual pills or doses of medicine that you need to set aside each time you receive a new supply of mail-order medicine and put them in the weekly pill case (which you will set aside for a long while, until re-order time).
Copyright © 2013 Laura D. Schneider. For personal use only; all other rights reserved.
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Time to Re-Order from the Mail-Order Pharmacy
Once you are nearly out of your main bottle of pills/doses, that is your signal to contact the mail-order pharmacy's pharmacist and request a refill.
Typically, the pharmacist will then contact your prescribing doctor for permission to refill (step A in the calculator), for example, a 3-month supply of your medicine. Occasionally you may be required to contact the prescribing physician directly to make the refill request.
If given permission to refill the order, then the mail-order pharmacy team will fill the request as specified by the doctor (step B). Next, the refill must be packaged and shipped to you (step C). You can then expect to receive the refilled prescription on or before the Total Days specified in step E.
For example, if I have to take 1 pill per day (step F) and the result in step E was 14 days, it would be easy to buy a cheap 1-week (Sun-Sat) emergency pill container and put 2 pills into each day of the week. Whenever I run out of pills in the main container, the next day I take 1 of the 2 pills from the corresponding day of the week. For example, I run out on Tuesday, so my next dose is from the emergency container day Wednesday (1 pill only, in this example). I continue through that week and the next week taking 1 pill out of each weekday spot. At some point before the last pill is gone from the container (Tuesday), I should have received my prescription refill through the mail.
When to Call the Mail-Order Pharmacy AFTER You Have Placed Your Order
Note that if there is only 1 week left of medicine in the weekly container, however, and if it is critical medicine, definitely be sure to call the mail-order pharmacy to verify that your re-order has been shipped and that everything is on schedule. If there was a delay, ask for free "expedited shipping" to ensure that you get your refill on time: remember, in this example, your last dose of medicine available is on that second Tuesday after you began using the refill supply container. They will typically agree quickly to such a request since you know exactly when, worst case according to their policies, you should be receiving that prescription in the mail and since it is a critical medicine.
If the mail-order pharmacy won't agree to free expedited shipping, remind them of their policy of the number of days that it should take from the time you first contact them to the time you should receive your prescription refill in the mail. Tell them that you followed their stated policy "in good faith" that you would receive the medicine on time, and that you will give them a negative rating and/or switch mail-order pharmacy providers if they fail to follow through with their own stated policies. (Don't forget to follow through with this if they still fail to deliver your prescription on time.)
Worst-Case Scenario: You Run Out of Medicine
The worst-case scenario is running out of your mail-ordered prescription before the refill has arrived. This can happen if there is a problem with the mail-order refill process, or if you didn't reserve enough pills to cover the re-order period, or if you didn't re-order before/as you ran out of pills in the original pharmacy container.
If this happens, many, if not most, prescription drug plans will require you to purchase, at full price, your own necessary medicines: they will not pay for a local pharmacy to provide, say, a week's worth of a prescription that has already been mail-ordered and should have already arrived but didn't for some reason.
So... Be sure not to run out of medicine while waiting for the mail-order refill prescription to arrive. The simple calculator should help you determine how much medicine you should have in reserve to cover the re-ordering period. Of course, it never hurts to keep higher reserves, in case of major problems.
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