Ask a Pharmacist

Patience at the Pharmacy 1.01: Why does it take so long to fill my Rx?

Photo of pharmacist checking medications

Sandra Leal, PharmD, MPH, CDE, FAPhA

Have you ever found yourself waiting forever to get your prescription filled at the pharmacy? I mean, how much time does it honestly take to count 30 pills into a bottle and label it? It should just take a few minutes, right? It’s a common question.

As a pharmacist with prior work experience in a community pharmacy setting, I want to shed some light on why it may take an exceptional amount of time to fill your medication. Each state has specific requirements that pharmacies must abide by as well as federal requirements that all pharmacies must follow.

Missing Prescription Information

No system is perfect and same goes for the process of filling a prescription. When you provide a prescription to a pharmacy (whether that be physically with a piece of paper or electronically) the prescription must be complete with the information that is required and enforced by the state or federal government.

Sometimes when prescription orders are received, they are missing important information that is necessary before a pharmacy can dispense them. Sometimes this missing information can be obtained from you, the patient, but sometimes the pharmacy staff must track down the missing information from the doctor’s office you obtained the prescription from. It takes time to contact your physician’s office and get the needed information.

Are the Medications Safe for You?

If everything checks out okay, the next step is to ensure that the medication is safe for you to take. This is the main job of the pharmacist. With our clinical knowledge and years of learning about drugs and how those drugs affect a disease or condition, we analyze your prescription. By analyzing your prescription, the pharmacist will look for drug-drug interactions and drug-disease interactions. This is very important because sometimes a patient has multiple doctors. Occasionally, these doctors do not communicate or share medical records with each other, and are unaware of all the medications his/her patient is taking.

It is at the pharmacy that the pharmacist can find and prevent errors before a medicine is dispensed to you at the pharmacy pickup window. We also make sure the dose, frequency, and directions make sense and are appropriate. Sometimes we need to reference more information about you in order to make a clinical assessment.

This may mean that we need to ask you a few things, like how much you weigh, if you are taking any dietary supplements or herbal products, or if you may be pregnant.

Dealing with the Insurance Company

Once that step passes, we can process the prescription through insurance. This often tends to be the most time consuming step of ordering a prescription. It’s worth noting that if the patient does not have their most recent insurance card with them, it will add to any delay (sometimes significantly) – so, PLEASE, always carry your current insurance card. Please understand that the pharmacy is not your insurance company.

When a pharmacy fills a prescription, what we really mean is that we process a prescription by transmitting information, also known as a claim, to an insurance company. Most of the time the insurance approves the claim but sometimes the insurance denies the claim. If this happens, we may have to contact the insurance directly and this takes time.

Other times the insurance company gives us information as to why the prescription is not covered under your insurance plan. This information may then need to be communicated back to your doctor. Occasionally, the medicine you were prescribed is not on your insurance company’s formulary.

And still other times a prior authorization (PA) is required for prescriptions to be insurance eligible. Once all the steps above are checked, the pharmacy can fill your medication. The last step is to match the medicine bottle to your prescription to make sure we did not miss anything. Once that is taken care of, we can safely and legally, provide the medication to you.

As a patient, please be patient and try to understand that we are doing the best we can to get your medication to you in a timely fashion. We do not intentionally want you to wait longer than necessary, but we need to ensure that the medication we are filling for you is also safe for you.

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  • As a patient always carry your most CURRENT insurance card with you.

    • That’s great advice, and always remember ScriptSave WellRx discounts can’t be stacked on top of insurance copays or other discounts, but may be cheaper than insurance copays.

    • Thanks Kayode, that’s a great point (and that’s why we love it when we have pharmacists and other healthcare professionals reading, commenting on and sharing our articles).

      You may have noticed that, after reading your comment here (and the ones you added on our Facebook page), we edited this article to include mention of carrying the CURRENT insurance card – THANKS!

      Please don’t hesitate to click the Share button(s) if you think others might be interested in reading this, or any of our other blog posts.

  • Your insurance info isn’t accurate.

    We need a prior authorization.

    You went to the medstop and didn’t tell them youre allergic to the med they wrote for, but we have it in your file.
    There’s 3 lines on hold and 2 ringing, and only 3 of us working.

    Your doctor sent your stuff to the pharmacy across town. Yes, we can get it…if they’d answer the damn phone.

    This med from doctor x has a serious interaction with the meds you got from doctor y.

    Dr x and Dr y wrote for the same med, different strengths…which one are you taking? NO,you don’t need them both!

    You want a refill but haven’t been to the doc in a year.

    It’s 4:55 on Friday afternoon, NO,I can’t drop everything I’m doing to “call before 5” for you to get a Viagra refill.

    I returned your stuff yesterday, you never picked it up,and after 14 days, I put it back.

    No, we didn’t fill the 27 scripts your doctor sent over. We called you to see what you needed. You didn’t answer the phone.

    No, telling me “the white blood pressure pill” doesn’t help,Karen. You have 4 blood pressure pills…all white.

    I can keep going…

    • Oh gosh, Vicky, that’s quite the list – thanks so much taking the time to read our article and to add such helpful commentary!

      We’ll be sure to do our best to get this in front of as many of our ScriptSave WellRx members as possible. Hopefully, if they see something on your list that they identify with, they might be nudged into modifying such habits. In the meantime, you (and all your peers & colleagues in the pharmacy profession) have the sincere thanks of everyone at ScriptSave WellRx (staff & members) for everything you do to ensure that patients get the meds they need!

  • Dealing with insurance, doctors, interactions, name brand or generic, consultations, some pharmacies can exceed 700 to 1000 scripts a day. Remember Monday’s are usually the busiest day in the pharmacy. Don’t bring your general merchandise to the pharmacy checkouts.

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