A Handy Primer to Prescription Drug Delivery Services

Learn all about how they work, popular options, and the biggest pros and cons.

Sick of waiting in drive-throughs and long pharmacy lines for prescription meds—or forgetting to refill your order in advance? Drug delivery services can help, and they're increasingly popular as folks turn to the internet to make one more aspect of their daily lives easier. But what are the pros and cons of such services, and are they as safe and reliable as they're made out to be? We asked the experts to weigh in.

How do they work?

Think of a drug delivery service like any mail order subscription service. After signing up for the service, you can opt to have certain medications delivered right to your door on a routine basis.

"Delivery services work in one of two ways," says Janet Alvarez, executive editor at Wise Bread. "The first is they can be affiliated with your pharmacy: CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid, Walmart, grocery store pharmacies—any of these now have drug delivery services." Going with a trusted pharmacy to deliver the drugs to you so you don't have to spend time making a regular trip and waiting in line is a great way to start. You already trust your local pharmacy, and now they're happy to bring you your order and save you a trip.

"But then there are also some online pharmacies that purport to cut out the middlemen and give lower prices direct-to-consumer," Alvarez says.

This is where things become fuzzy. You'll want to vet your online pharmacy for safety, prices, and whether they're covered by your insurance company.

"Not all forms of insurance necessarily cover all online pharmacies," Alvarez says. "They will typically cover online programs offered by your traditional companies, but they may not necessarily cover the delivery costs." While shipping costs are usually nominal, a regular $5 to $10 fee could negate the convenience if you're on a tight budget. Look for sites that offer free shipping or free shipping on minimum purchases.

Popular Prescription Delivery Services

A few key services have risen in popularity since drug delivery services became more common. You've likely heard of PillPack and GetMyRx to start.

PillPack is operated by Amazon and goes one step further than simply delivering your pill bottles to your mailbox. Ideal for patients who take several pills each day, PillPack sorts and packages your medication into daily packets. Each single-serve packet tells you when to take the pills inside, so you don't have to worry about sorting dozens of pills into dispensers and remembering whether you took something.

GetMyRx is a pharmacy on demand service that fills and delivers your prescriptions by finding a local pharmacy that can provide the prescription the same day. It works with most insurance plans as well as Medicare, and doesn't charge you for the services.

And as Alvarez mentioned, many big name pharmacies have started their own services, including CVS and Walgreens. Amazon recently launched Amazon Pharmacy, meaning you can get most prescriptions delivered to your door now by those blue trucks. Amazon Pharmacy works through Amazon Prime, as well, for free, two-day shipping. They also promise straightforward pricing.

If you're worried about whether a site you're using is legitimate, smart shopping expert Trae Bodge suggests checking the URL for "https" at the beginning of the address. The "s" means it's a secure site when it comes to the financials, and that's a good place to start. Ramzi Yacoub, Chief Pharmacy Officer at SingleCare, also suggests sticking to companies within the U.S. to ensure their products and methods have been FDA approved.

They can help you save time and money.

Many drug delivery services are designed to help you save because they allow you to buy your prescriptions in larger quantities.

"There are options to save money on 90 days scripts vs. 30 days," Yacoub says. "The one drawback is you're going to pay more money upfront."

Kate Ashford, a Medicare specialist at Nerdwallet, says to check with your insurance first to see if these services are actually covered. "Most insurance plans offer a mail-order pharmacy option that allows you to order 90 days of regular medication at a time," she says. "If you're on regular year-round prescriptions, this can save you money."

Plus, when you automate a delivery schedule, you won't have to worry about forgetting a refill and going with your meds.

They're especially good for long-term or recurring medications.

Bodge says, like any subscription, it's important to make sure you're still using the meds that you pay for on autopilot. "Something that happens with a lot of subscription services is that you set it and forget it," she says. "So if you've set it for a medication you only needed for a short time and the doctor hasn't set an end date or number of refills, you're getting medication you don't need."

Bodge also suggests using drug delivery programs that charge shipping fees only for the medications you know you'll be taking long term. If it's something temporary, like an antibiotic, she says it's likely cheaper to pick it up in person when you need it.

How to ensure safe delivery.

Most drug delivery companies will expertly pack medications that need to be refrigerated, for example, so you shouldn't have to worry about being home to receive these items within minutes of their arrival.

"Package theft can be a concern," Alvarez says. "Be sure to track your medication, and if it hasn't arrived within the guaranteed window, contact your pharmacy if you believe it was either lost in transit or stolen." If you are worried about having packages stolen, see about having them delivered to a more secure location such as your workplace or a P.O. Box.

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