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Survey: Community pharmacists wary of mail order drugs

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ALEXANDRIA, Va.  — A nationwide survey of independent pharmacists, released Wednesday by the National Community Pharmacists Association, finds a host of alarming problems with mail order prescriptions, including late deliveries, errant deliveries, and sensitive drugs left out in the elements.

B. Douglas Hoey

“Do-it-yourself health care is dangerous, and we’re seeing some of the risks in this data,”said NCPA CEO B. Douglas Hoey. “Insurance companies, employers, plan administrators, and public health officials should consider the potential risks before they allow pharmacy benefit managers to stampede patients into mail order.”

According to the survey, 98% of community pharmacists say they’ve heard from patients whose mail order drugs arrived late or not at all. 60 percent say their patients’ drugs were left out in the weather, where the elements can alter the way medicines work. 44% say their patients received the wrong quantity. 26% said their patients received the wrong medicine, and a quarter said their patients’ drugs went to the wrong address.

“There’s nothing convenient or cost-effective about any of this, and it’s all extraordinarily dangerous,” said Hoey. “Importantly, community pharmacists came to the rescue after mail order failed to deliver.” Hoey noted that 92% of pharmacists who responded to the survey said they’ve had to give patients a short-term supply of medication while they waited for the mail houses to track down their orders. 78% say they’ve called doctors on behalf of patients for new prescriptions.

Mail order prescriptions are not new. While the option has been available for years, that sector of the industry hasn’t grown much, according to publicly available data. Hoey is concerned, however, that the false lure of savings, combined with the temporary reliance on mail services due to the pandemic, will encourage insurance companies, plan sponsors, and pharmacy benefit managers to push patients into mail order programs without completely understanding consequences.

“In many of the cases that we see, patients are economically coerced by their prescription benefits plan, which sometimes owns the mail order pharmacy, to get the drugs by mail. Assuming the drugs are delivered on time, to the right places, and not exposed to harsh weather conditions, patients are then left to sort out the safest and most effective way to use their prescriptions,” said Hoey. “The men and women of the Post Office have a difficult and critical job. We all respect them. And we believe they take their oath seriously – neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night, shall prevent us from our appointed rounds. However, for the same reason we all need them to do their jobs, patients also need their pharmacists. They’re the medication experts.”

For more information about issues with mail order prescriptions, please see this NBC Newsinvestigation, Millions of Americans receive drugs by mail. But are they safe? (Dec. 8, 2020)


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