Getting a prescription filled

Alternative Names

Prescriptions - how to fill; Medications - how to get prescription filled; Drugs - how to get prescription filled; Pharmacy - mail order; Pharmacy - internet; Types of pharmacies


Your health care provider may give you a prescription in different ways, including:

  • Writing out a prescription that you then take to a pharmacy
  • Calling or e-mailing a pharmacy to order the medication
  • Submitting your prescription electronically, which means a computer at your provider's office--most often an electronic medical record (EMR)--will send the prescription to your pharmacy

You also need to find out whether your health plan will pay for the medicine your health care provider prescribed. Certain types or brands of medication may not be covered.

Once you receive a prescription from your health care provider, you may buy the medication from various sources.


The most common place for filling a prescription is at a local pharmacy. Some pharmacies are located inside of a grocery or large "chain" store.

Qudstions to consider when choosing a pharmacy include:

  • Is the location easy to get to? Are there many stores near you?
  • Do they check for drug interactions?
  • Are the pharmacists friendly, helpful, and willing to answer questions?

It is best to fill all presciptions with the same pharmacy, so they have a record of what drugs you are taking or have taken in the past. This allows your pharmacist to easily check for drug interactions that could be harmful or decrease the effectiveness of your medications.

Your health plan may require you to use certain pharmacies. This means they may not pay for your prescription if you do not use one of these pharmacies.

  • You may call your health plan to find out where you can go. Look on the back of your insurance card for a phone number to call.
  • You may also ask the pharmacy whether they have a contract with your insurance plan.

To help the pharmacist fill the prescription:

  • Make sure the following information is clearly printed on the prescription: patient's name, address, phone number, and health care provider's name. A sloppy prescription may not include all of this information, or it may be impossible to read.
  • Bring your insurance card the first time you fill the prescription.
  • When phoning the pharmacy for a refill, the following information is helpful: prescription number, name of medication, and patient's name.


Some people and insurance companies choose to use mail-order pharmacies. Normally, a prescription is sent to the mail-order pharmacy or phoned in by the health care provider. It may take a week or more for the prescription to reach your home. Therefore, mail order is best used for long-term medications that treat chronic problems such as high blood pressure and diabetes.

Your prescriptions may be less expensive when you order them 3 months at a time through a mail-order pharmacy. Buy short-term medications, such as antibiotics and medications that need to be stored at certain temperatures at a local pharmacy.


Internet pharmacies are another option for long-term medications or general pharmacy supplies. The website should clearly explain the steps for filling or transferring a prescription. Make sure that the website has clearly-stated privacy policies and other procedures. AVOID any website that claims a doctor can prescribe the medication without seeing you.


U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Buying prescription medicine online: A consumer safety guide. Updated March 30, 2010. Accessed January 30, 2011.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Stop-Learn-Go Tips for talking with your pharmacist to learn how to use medicines safely. Updated October 14, 2009. Accessed January 30, 2011.

Rabbani A, Alexander GC. Cost savings associated with filling a 3-month supply of prescription medicines. Appl Health Econ Health Policy. 2009;7(4):255-264.

Review Date: 2/7/2011
Reviewed By: Linda Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.