5 questions to ask when choosing a pharmacy for your ongoing medications

If you’re a Canadian adult, you might have been in a pharmacy hundreds of times in your life, and you probably have a pretty good idea of what they do. For many of us, a pharmacy is where we go on occasion on our way home from the doctor’s office, when we’re sick, or when our kids are sick and we need one-time medication to deal with it.

But what if you take medication on an ongoing basis to manage a chronic condition like diabetes or high blood pressure? In some cases, you may not see your doctor for several months, but he or she could give you up to a year’s worth of refills so that you can continue to take your meds without having to check in. This changes the kind of relationship you have with your pharmacy, and might change your perspective on the kind of pharmacy that is best for you.

Express Scripts Canada analyzes data from millions of prescription drug claims every year, and as such, we have a keen understanding of the challenges faced by people taking multiple medications on an ongoing basis. Based on this analysis, here are the top five questions you should ask when choosing a pharmacy to help you manage your ongoing medications.

1. Will you help me avoid bad reactions to my medication?

If you are taking medications on an ongoing basis, and especially if you are taking multiple medications that are prescribed by more than one doctor (family physician, walk-in doctors, specialists), you are at a higher risk of experiencing dangerous drug interactions. In other words, your medications may not get along with each other. If you get all your prescriptions filled at the same pharmacy, you should be able to ask your pharmacist about possible interactions. If you don’t, you might want to consider a pharmacy that has access to all of your drug claims information, regardless of where you filled the prescription.

2. Will you help me stay on track with my medication?

Medication is only effective if you take it as prescribed. Yet Express Scripts Canada data shows that many Canadians living with a chronic condition don’t take their medication as prescribed. In fact, 39% of patients taking medication for high blood pressure or high cholesterol are considered non-adherent to their medication, meaning they take much less than their recommended dose over time (80% or less). Non-adherence rates are even higher for diabetes and depression. If you are forgetting doses, there are a number of tools and strategies that you can use as reminders. Perhaps the bigger problem is gaps (sometimes several days or even weeks) between when you run out of medication and when you go to the drug store to get a refill (or worse, go to the doctor to get a new prescription). It’s proven that adherence rates increase dramatically for patients using a pharmacy offering refill reminders, automatic refills and help getting new prescriptions from physicians. With some pharmacies, you can set your auto refill dates and your medication is delivered to your door.

Read: Only you can manage your chronic condition – 5 tips to make sure you take your meds

3. What level of support do you offer?

If you have a chronic condition, you may not see your doctor very often. Your pharmacist is a great resource if you have questions about your medication, or even general questions about your health. If you use a retail pharmacy, you can always ask to speak to a pharmacist during regular business hours, but what if you have a medication issue that comes up AFTER regular hours? Ask if your pharmacy has on-call pharmacist support, and what days/hours it covers. If you have an urgent health concern, you should call 911. But if you’re concerned that a new medication might be causing insomnia, or you’ve developed a strange rash and want to know if it’s related to your prescription medication, it’s always good to know that you can reach a pharmacist when you need them.

4. Are you helping me save money?

Depending on your drug coverage, you may not be overly concerned about the cost of your ongoing medications. You may be fully covered, or perhaps you pay a few dollars a month as a co-pay for your cholesterol medication or anti-depressants. If you have no company drug coverage, on the other hand, or if you or your family members have more complex health conditions like diabetes, cancer or multiple sclerosis, and your plan has a co-pay, you could be on the hook for hundreds of dollars a month in medication. Shop around. Also, ask whether your pharmacy will fill your prescription 90 days at a time (instead of 30) to save you money on dispensing fees.

Read: Express Scripts Canada: The Pharmacy of Tomorrow, Today

5. Are you convenient?

We all have busy lives. Getting to the pharmacy is just one more thing to do. If you need to get a new prescription from your doctor, make that two more things... When choosing a pharmacy, consider location, business hours and other convenient features like:

  • Do they deliver?

  • Do they offer auto refills, refill reminders and assistance with prescription renewals?

  • Do they offer online ordering?

Every pharmacy is different, and not all of them are well-suited to people with complex, ongoing health issues. If you take medication on an ongoing basis, but haven’t thought about the role that your pharmacy plays in your care and that of your family, maybe it’s time you did.