As many patients have turned to mail-order pharmacies during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, several pharmacy organizations have released statements expressing concern about potential mail delays and how they could affect patients.

Not only would a delay in medication deliveries limit the ability of patients to manage their health care needs, but a statement from Pharmacists for Healthier Lives said running out of lifesaving medications could threaten patients’ lives.1

“Specifically, a reduction of mail service can delay delivery of vital prescription drugs, and this may put patients’ lives at risk,” the group said in a press release. “According to the National Association of Letter Carriers, the [United States Postal Service] shipped 1.2 billion prescriptions in 2019. This accounted for 20% of all prescriptions filled in the US last year. And this was before a pandemic that required people with pre-existing conditions to avoid leaving their homes.”1

New data from the University of Michigan suggests that mail delays could affect the medication supply for nearly 1 in 4 Americans over the age of 50. By using data from a national poll of people aged 50 to 80 years, investigators found that nearly one-quarter of this age group receive at least 1 medication by mail.2

Notably, that statistic increases to 29% when the poll results are limited to those who take at least 1 prescription medication. Nearly 17% of people in this group said they receive all of their medications via mail. Furthermore, 35% of those who receive medications by mail said that their insurance requires them to do so.2

Patient pharmacy choice is an essential aspect of ensuring access to medications and allows patients to choose where and how to get their medications. According to a statement from the American Pharmacists Association (APhA), limiting medication distribution options almost invariably has a negative impact on patients’ lives.3

“Time and again, we have seen that an unduly narrow list of medication distribution options courts disaster,” APhA said in a press release. “Mandatory mail order interferes with the patient-pharmacist relationship. It’s important for patients to have a relationship with their pharmacist just like they do with their physician to ensure continuity in care.”3

In addition to the 35% of respondents who said their insurance requires mail delivery, the study found that 53% said the delivery option saved money, while 42% cited convenience. Nearly 30% of respondents said they used mail delivery for long-term prescriptions that didn’t require counseling from a pharmacy team member. Approximately 29% said their physician’s office automatically sent their prescriptions to a mail-order company.1

With so many patients getting their medications via mail, ensuring they receive those medications on time and are able to maintain adherence is vital for both their personal health concerns and broader public health issues. According to Pharmacists for Healthier Lives, lack of adherence contributes to more than 125,000 preventable deaths annually and costs the health care system between $100 and $300 billion each year.1

“As medication experts, pharmacists are acutely aware of how important it is for patients to have access to medications when they need it,” the group said in a press release. “We also see the harm it causes when patients are unable to receive their medications, which can lead to relapse, hospital readmittance, and even death.”1

REFERENCES
  1. Statement from Pharmacists for Healthier Lives in Support of the United States Postal Service and the Important Role It Plays in Advancing Medication Adherence [Email]. Received August 20, 2020. Accessed August 25, 2020.
  2. Mail Delays May Affect Medication Supply for Nearly 1 in 4 Americans Over 50 [news release]. University of Michigan Health Lab; August 24, 2020. https://labblog.uofmhealth.org/lab-notes/mail-delays-may-affect-medication-supply-for-nearly-1-4-americans-over-50. Accessed August 25, 2020.
  3. Dangers of Mandatory Mail Order Shine Light on the Need for Patient Pharmacy Choice and Protecting the Pharmacist-Patient Relationship [news release]. American Pharmacists Association; August 18, 2020. https://www.pharmacist.com/press-release/dangers-mandatory-mail-order-shine-light-need-patient-pharmacy-choice-and-protecting. Accessed August 25, 2020.