Local Pharmacy or Online: Safety vs. Risk

Written by Kate Wolf for The Ord Quiz. Originally Published in The Ord Quiz: Wednesday, January 25, 2023, Vol. 142, No. 4

The concept of online pharmacies and the active sale of medications have become very popular over the past 20 years worldwide….but is it safe? Why do patients even risk taking medications they’ve ordered online when they have no idea who is producing it, filling the prescriptions or making sure they even get to the right person?

   The biggest reason mentioned, as the result of numerous surveys, is cost. Among adults who take long term medications, 60 percent say they save at least $20 by ordering online. The second reason is convenience. Almost 94 percent claim they order prescriptions online so they “don’t have to go out of the house.” Really? Wow….there just are no words adequate enough to describe that kind of inertia. Not having to wait in line is another reason given and 42 percent claim they actually save a whole 10 minutes by not going to a real pharmacy. Seriously? Only 10 minutes? Explain that logic to me: You still have to wait for the online order to be shipped instead of receiving it on the day it’s prescribed. Others report they do not like to be restricted to regular business hours so they can order their medicine online in their jammies at midnight. (Insert eye-rolling emoji here).

   In addition, many health insurance companies will specify that ordering medications online is mandatory.

   “People don’t know they have the option to say ‘No’ to that,” said 35 year veteran Registered Pharmacist Mike Blaha of Anderson Pharmacy in Ord. But they don’t tell you that. You aren’t given the option because they don’t want you to know. It’s all about the money. When contacted, Blue Cross-Blue Shield of Nebraska said they believe their insured members are smart enough to decide what’s best for themselves and do not require such mandates.

   Listen, folks….there are many reasons it just makes sense to get prescriptions filled at your local hometown pharmacy. First and foremost is the safety factor. Local pharmacists have established long term professional relationships with area physicians. They know the patients, they keep meticulous records of patient medication histories, and they aware of potential adverse drug interactions.

   Online firms may have only one registered pharmacist to oversee 30 or 40 other individuals who may not be qualified to even handle prescriptions, let alone fill them. As many as 100,000 prescriptions per day may be shipped from various online medication providers without adequate supervision.

   “You don’t know what you’re getting. You don’t even get to talk to a registered pharmacist,” Blaha explained. “You don’t even know which mail order place it comes out of.”

   What many people are not aware of is that our local pharmacies frequently have to clean up the messes of online medication providers.

   “We are the only profession where you give out bunches of free information every day,” Blaha added.

   Often, because these meds are shipped directly to the household, they get lost, arrive late or damaged, or are the wrong medication entirely. 

   “Our pharmacy plays an important role in patient safety,” commented Registered Doctor of Pharmacology Angie Svoboda of Goodlife. “We don’t always have specialists at local clinics and some of our patients may have to go to larger cities, for example, to see a cardiologist. And then they may go to another city for an orthopedic surgeon, or another city for diabetic care. As a result, medication orders from all these different specialists may overlap. The Goodlife pharmacists oversee all these orders and look for potential problems. We have prevented many unwanted mis-adventures in the past by taking the time to call the physician/provider to clarify medication orders.” Obviously, online medication providers can’t do that and thus prevent unnecessary emergency room visits or hospitalizations.

   Also, medications may sit in a freezing cold mailbox or fry in the summer heat affecting the pharmaceutical integrity of the medicine. Or they could be stolen. Those who wanted to save money and time by ordering online end up going to the local pharmacy anyway because they NEED that medication….now. In addition, online orders are generally paid for via credit card, which may be difficult to stop once the medication is no longer needed.

   “We have family members bringing boxes and boxes of medications that are no longer needed to us for disposal,” Blaha reported.

   Rural patients tend to be older and, therefore, more likely to have chronic diseases requiring multiple routine medications. That makes medication management more complicated.

   “We know our patients,” Svoboda continued. “We deliver to our patient’s homes and we do medication counseling when we hand over that medication to them.” Online sites can’t do that either. “Sometimes we even help to de-prescribe unneeded medication by working with local physicians, hopefully preventing medication side effects,” she concluded. “This is a service that may not be given outside of a small rural independent pharmacy.” In addition, Goodlife Pharmacy offers a text/call reminder program, as well as a free medication compliance packaging program to make getting refills easier and faster than ever. So, if ordering in your jammies is your “thing”, they’ve got you covered.

   It’s all about Big Pharma: They own their own distribution and shipping sites that do nothing to support our local economy and, thus, can offer some medications at a lower price. Independent small town pharmacies are not able to compete under those circumstances. In fact, thanks to Obamacare, pharmacies are forced to pay outrageous fees that amount to just about the same cost as hiring a registered pharmacist.

   “We’re all struggling right now,” Blaha concluded. “And it just keeps getting worse every year.” If the majority of people switch to online medication ordering, which may cause local pharmacies to close their doors, residents will have to travel more than 60 miles one way in order to fill critical prescriptions they might need immediately.

   So, it all boils down to your personal choice. If you want your medication supplied by highly educated, professional pharmacists who know and care about you, who can answer your healthcare questions personally and privately, who can make sure the medications you receive are safe, accurate as prescribed on the same day they are prescribed, there are two exceptional local pharmacies right here in town. If those are not your priorities, then “Caveat emptor”….let the buyer beware.



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