What is the Role of the Mail-Order Pharmacy?


Although there are many great benefits of mail-order pharmacy, there are times when it may not be the right choice.


Prescriptions have been provided to patients by mail in the United States for more than a century. Once available in only remote or rural areas, mailing a prescription to a patient’s home has since become more widely accepted.


In 1946, the United States saw the first pharmacy dedicated to mailing prescription drugs to a patient’s home. The Veterans Administration (VA) was the first to offer services to eligible veterans. Today, the VA still accounts for nearly one-third of the mail-order prescriptions that are dispensed in the United States.


The American Association of Retired Persons and the National Retired Teachers Association formed a mail pharmacy that was not-for-profit and served only their membership. By 1963, for-profit entities began to market mail-order pharmacy services to corporate, government, and union employers. There was some opposition to this type of pharmacy throughout the 1960s.


The 1980s saw the most rapid growth of the mail-order pharmacy industry with revenues soaring from $100 million to $1.5 billion. The trend would continue to grow throughout the 1990s mirroring the growth of the internet. Mail-order pharmacy became more cost effective and convenient.


As more employers began to offer the mail-order pharmacy option, and in some cases mandated usage, we continued to see this trend increase. Although there was an increase in the number of patients using mail-order pharmacy services, there has been a slow-down in actual use over the past decade. A comparison of mail-order pharmacy use showed mail order accounted for 18.6% of prescriptions dispensed to in 2011 compared with 18.5% in 2012, according to research published by the Drug Channels Institute.

The Future of Mail-Order Pharmacy

Mail-order pharmacy has taken hold and grown over the last half century, currently mailing billions of prescriptions annually. Many employers offer a mail-order pharmacy option as part of their comprehensive prescription benefits. If a patient are unsure whether mail-order pharmacy is right for their needs, they should consider the following benefits to make an informed decision.

  • The first step is to understand prescription drug benefits. Contact the health plan to compare the price difference between filling prescriptions via mail order versus a local pharmacy. Oftentimes a mail-order pharmacy can fulfill a 90-day supply at cost savings versus a 30-day supply at a local pharmacy.
  • Ordering and refilling prescriptions is convenient. Mail-order pharmacies make it easy to manage medication ordering and refills using a computer or smart phone. There is even an option to synchronize multiple refills, a great convenience when managing chronic illnesses.
  • Receiving mail-order prescriptions will save time. Gone are the days of driving across town to wait in line for a prescription.
  • Quality is at the forefront, with a team of pharmacists and technicians ensuring the quality of the prescription. Every prescription is reviewed by a pharmacist prior to shipping, and they are only a phone call away if there are questions about your medication when it arrives.

Not Always the Best Choice

Although there are many great benefits of mail-order pharmacy, there are times when it may not be the right choice.

  • Certain classes of medications, especially antibiotics, must be started immediately. It may be best to fill these medications at the local pharmacy.
  • If a patient is adjusting to a new regimen or needs additional medical supplies in conjunction with their medication, it might be best to stop at the local pharmacy.
  • For face-to-face interaction, questions about a prescription or counseling about adverse events, nothing beats the local pharmacist. An educated health care professional, pharmacists are one of the most accessible health care providers who can offer consultations with no appointment needed.

Professional Experience

Having worked in a mail-order dispensing pharmacy for more than 10 years, I can tell you first-hand, mail-order pharmacies provide accurate and efficient pharmacy services. Quality is our most important priority second only to customer service. Each prescription is reviewed by no less than 2 pharmacists to ensure accuracy of both the data entry and the verification of the product. A pharmacist is only a phone call away and available for any and all questions or concerns. If it is offered as a pharmacy benefit and a good fit for you, using a mail-order pharmacy can save you time and money without concession of quality or pharmacist availability.

About the Author

Nicole Kruczek earned her B.S. in Pharmacy degree from Temple University and is currently enrolled in the Masters of Pharmacy Business Administration (MPBA) program at the University of Pittsburgh, a 12-month, executive-style graduate education program designed for working professionals striving to be tomorrow’s leaders in the business of medicines. She has spent the last two decades in management roles in various pharmacy operations in long-term care, specialty, and PBM.

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