Look For These 5 Features When Choosing A Pharmacy For Your Birth Control

When it comes to picking a pharmacy for your birth control — whether you are buying something over-the-counter or filling a prescription — we are inundated with choices.  There are probably as many pharmacies in your neighborhood as there are coffee shops.  Everything from your corporate chain pharmacies (think CVS or Walgreens) to grocery store pharmacies (Vons, Ralphs) to big box pharmacies (Costco, Walmart, Target) to independent pharmacies (YourStreet Pharmacy, Sally’s Drugs).  There are a couple of other options too.  We can’t forget about mail order pharmacies and online pharmacies.  So how do we pick one?

There are a couple of features to look for.  These can be applied to other medications beyond birth control too.

#1 – Privacy  

Is there a private area where you can discuss your confidential medication and other health issues with the pharmacist?  We have all overheard awkward conversations between the pharmacy staff and the person in front of us in line.  The dividers on the counter don’t cut it.  It doesn’t have to be this way.  Some pharmacies are making the effort to have a private room or at least a private cubicle to meet with you.  

Target Pharmacy Counter

(Photo credit: Random Retail via Flickr)

Does the pharmacy guarantee your personal health information will not be shared with family members or others without your permission?  There are laws protecting your personal health information but that doesn’t always mean you’re safe.  A lot of people send their loved ones to the pharmacy to pick up their medications or ask a question, so the pharmacy is used to sharing information.  But if you want your records to stay private, ask about their privacy practices.  

#2 – Knowledge

The pharmacy exists for two reasons.  One is to get you the medication supplies you need.  The other is to make sure your medication will be safe and effective for you — essentially serving as a second set of eyes on your doctor’s prescription.  Birth control is not one-size-fits-all.  Pharmacists add an important layer of safety to the risky business of using medications.  You want to be sure your pharmacist is knowledgeable about birth control and everything that goes with it, like the menstrual cycle and sexual health.  

Birth control is amazing.  It prevents unwanted/unplanned pregnancies and does wonders for some mood disorders, making periods lighter and less painful, getting rid of acne, and so much more.  It’s not without its side effects.  As with all other medications, it’s a balancing act of the risks and benefits.  In most cases, the benefits outweigh the risks.  But you want to be sure your pharmacist warns you about the risks –there are some rare yet serious complications.  Many women give up on birth control because of more benign side effects like spotting, hair growth, decreased sex drive, weight gain, etc.  A pharmacist who knows birth control can use this information to recommend a different birth control formulation that will give you less grief and helps you plan if/when you want a baby.

#3 – Service

What services does the pharmacy provide that might add value to you as the patient or client?  Check if they can auto-refill your prescription.  Some pharmacies may be able to call/text/email you when your prescription is ready for pick up or when you’re due for a refill to see if you want them to process it.  Ask if the pharmacy can reach out to you when you are due for vaccines or other preventive health check-ins like STD testing.  

Perhaps you’d like to make an appointment to discuss your birth control or other health/medication issues with your pharmacist.  If this is an available service, does the pharmacy have an online scheduling option?

Is your pharmacy willing to go to bat for you?  This may mean playing phone tag with your doctor to get your prescription just right.  Or spending time convincing your health insurance company that you need this method of birth control or whatever medication and that the insurance company should pay for it (so you don’t have to).  See if your pharmacist has collaborations with other nearby health care providers and refer you as needed for related services like a pap test, pelvic exam, or breast exam (note: these are not needed for birth control, but help screen for cancer).

#4 – Convenience

Is the pharmacy convenient for you?  And I included you because we are each looking for something different.  Would it more convenient if the pharmacy was near school, near work, or near home?  Would you prefer they are open on weekdays or weekends?  Mornings or evenings?  Don’t forget to consider the parking situation.  

In this century, it’s not just about getting to the physical location anymore.  Does your pharmacy send you through an automated phone maze or is it easy to get through to someone who can help?  Can you email or text your pharmacy?  Do they accept refill requests online?

Now think about what the pharmacy can offer you to make it even easier.  Do they offer delivery or shipping services?  A small fee could well be worth the added convenience.  Your time and effort is money…and there’s the cost of gas too.

Does the pharmacy have other items that you can conveniently grab or have delivered/shipped?  Maybe you want to pick up a Mother’s Day card (hint hint, it’s just around the corner).  Or you’d like to pick up a thoughtful gift for your roommate.  Or you just need to stock up on the basics — we all need to brush our teeth  and use deodorant right?

#5 – Trustworthiness

This is somewhat of a catch-all for for the remaining things you should be looking for.  First, is the pharmacy legitimate and licensed?  Your neighborhood pharmacy will be but what about the anonymous people operating the online pharmacies.  Are the pharmacists licensed with their state board of pharmacy?  Does the pharmacy have a license/permit?  Are they getting the medications from a trusted wholesaler or could they be off-market?  The integrity of a medication cannot be trusted if it touches an off-market wholesaler.  You do not want to be fooled by counterfeit medications.  There’s a fantastic book on this topic.

Why isn’t cost on the list?

Medication prices are controlled much higher upstream and the pharmacies may not have much input on the matter.  The drug wholesalers set prices and insurance companies dictate how much the pharmacy gets reimbursed for dispensing prescription medications.  Oftentimes, pharmacies are actually losing money on some of the prescriptions they fill.  When the pharmacy’s costs and reimbursements are controlled by these outside factors, so is the cost to you — the patient.  Your copay will be the same regardless of which pharmacy fills your medication.*  So you can let the other features listed above help you pick the pharmacy that meets your needs.

*Some health insurance plans have lower copays when using their mail order pharmacy.  So a 3-month supply may be given for the price of 2-monthly copays.  Some health insurance plans may have “preferred” pharmacies so using a non-preferred pharmacy could cost a bit extra.

We would love to hear about your experiences with different pharmacies.  Please add comments below!

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