The Pros and Cons of Online Pharmacies

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Man looking at prescription medicine bottle
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Editor's Note: This story originally appeared on The Penny Hoarder.

Picking up your prescriptions might get a little trickier soon because the nation’s biggest pharmacy chains are cutting back their hours.

CVS, Walgreens, Walmart and Rite Aid have each announced plans to scale back their pharmacies’ operating hours because there’s an ongoing shortage of pharmacists.

Depending on where you live and how much flexibility you have to pick up your meds, this might become a problem for you. If it does, just know that you have other options.

Online pharmacies are becoming increasingly popular, and they’ll ship your medications right to you — although this option isn’t for everyone.

Here’s an article looking at the pros and cons of online pharmacies and comparing six of the most popular ones. We’ll summarize its findings a little lower.

What’s Going On With Pharmacies?

Pharmacist talking to a customer
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The big brick-and-mortar drugstore chains like CVS and Walgreens are having a tough time keeping their pharmacies open as long as they’d like to. Here’s a rundown of what’s happening.

  • CVS, America’s largest drugstore chain by revenue, had plans to cut hours at two-thirds of its 9,000 locations by March. The new hours of operation at those pharmacies will vary.
  • Walgreens, which includes the chain Duane Reade, announced in December it was cutting hours due to labor shortages. (So did Rite Aid.)
  • Walmart planned to change pharmacy closing hours from 9 p.m. to 7 p.m. at most of its 4,600 stores in March.

These three chains operate nearly 24,000 pharmacies across the country, so it’s a big deal when they make a change like this.

What’s Behind the Change?

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This is happening due to a shortage of pharmacists. There’s a self-perpetuating cycle where a shortage of pharmacists leads to stressful job environments for pharmacists, which contributes to burnout and more pharmacists quitting their jobs.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts about 13,600 job openings for pharmacists per year over the next decade, to replace pharmacists who are either retiring or leaving the field to pursue different careers.

It’s not just the big chains that are affected. Three out of four independent pharmacies are struggling to fill open positions, according to the National Community Pharmacists Association.

The Pros and Cons of Online Pharmacies

Couple looking at prescription drug bottles
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So what does this mean for you? It means it might get a little trickier to pick up your meds when you need them.

If you’re thinking about switching to an online pharmacy instead of a brick-and-mortar location, here’s what you need to know. Here’s a deep dive into the subject, and here it is summarized.

Pros of Online Pharmacies

woman receives medication from online pharmacy
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Pricing and home delivery are the main benefits.

Shopping around: It’s easy to find the best deal. With options from companies like Walgreens, Amazon and Express Scripts, you can quickly check the prices and availability of your prescribed medications.

Saving money: Online pharmacies are sometimes cheaper than in-person pharmacies, too.

Delivery: Your prescriptions are shipped directly to your home. Many online pharmacies even have free shipping and free auto-refills with a script from your doctor.

Cons of Online Pharmacies

Online pharmacy or prescription order
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As great as online pharmacies can be, there are some drawbacks.

Consultations: You may not be able to consult with a pharmacist about your medication in real time. Some online pharmacies offer live chats or the ability to call in to a trained pharmacy professional, but some don’t.

Generics: They may swap your brand-name medication for a generic one without you knowing. In-store pharmacies do this, too, but it’s easier to correct them if you want to.

Insurance: Some online pharmacies require you to have specific insurance coverage that partners with them.

Before you go digital with your prescriptions, there’s some food for thought. At least you wouldn’t have to worry about whether the pharmacy will be open.

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