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Once you get your prescription from the doctor and are ready to pick up your medication, you may often find yourself waiting longer than you expect for it to be filled at the pharmacy. So, how long do prescriptions take to fill? The processes that go on behind the pharmacy counter are not always known to those who are waiting in line, and it can feel frustrating, especially if you are sick or in a hurry. Having an understanding of the process might help alleviate feelings of frustration while waiting on your medication and allow you to take steps to help you avoid causing any delays. 

The Prescription Filling Process

There are many procedures with multiple steps and verification processes a pharmacist and pharmacy technicians must go through before they can fill a prescription. A pharmacist does so much more than put the correct number of a certain pill into a bottle! 

Verify All Prescription Information

Once the pharmacist has the prescription in their possession, they are responsible for ensuring the prescription is filled correctly by verifying all information. If a doctor submits a handwritten prescription, the handwriting may be unclear and difficult to read. In this case, the pharmacist may need to contact the doctor’s office to verify the dosage, medication type, frequency, etc. Sometimes a pharmacist may get a prescription that looks faulty and needs to double-check it as well. 

Run the Prescription Through the System

Every pharmacy has a system through which they run prescriptions. The purpose of these steps are to check on the following:

  • Ensure there aren’t any possible drug interactions with other medications the patient is concurrently taking
  • Check for drug allergies the patient may have to the medication being prescribed
  • Verify that the dosage and strength of the medication matches the age and weight of the patient and that the medication is the appropriate treatment for the disease or illness 
  • Monitor whether or not the patient received the same medication earlier, especially if it is a controlled substance
  • Check for drug class duplications

If the pharmacist is concerned with any of these, they will need clarification from the prescribing doctor before filling the prescription. This is done through a phone call during the prescribing doctor’s regular business hours, where they also continue to see their regularly scheduled patients. For this reason, sometimes it takes a few hours to days for the provider to get back to the pharmacist and answer their questions.

Check That Medications Are Available

Sometimes the prescribed medication is out of stock or running very low in supply. If this is the case, the pharmacist may need to contact other pharmacies or the supplier to see when it can be made available. The process of calling around and checking with various people can be time-consuming. If a medication does need to be ordered, most major retail pharmacies can get it shipped to their store within a few days.

Contacting Insurance Companies

When a patient is using insurance coverage for a prescription, the pharmacist will need to see whether the insurance plan covers the medication. If you’ve ever contacted the insurance company yourself, you know that this can be a long, time-consuming process. Some medications require “prior authorization,” which varies between insurance plans. If this is unknown before the prescription is delivered to the pharmacy, it can cause a delay that may last days. The insurance company has to verify information from the doctor and either approve or deny the request and then that information must be relayed back to the pharmacist. 

Check The Pill Bottles

After each prescription is filled, it gets a second verification to ensure that the prescription written by the doctor matches what is on the bottle label and inside the bottle. This is another safety check to make sure the right patient gets the correct prescription and not something that may harm them. The pharmacist likely has several people’s prescriptions to check at a time, so this can take a bit of time.  

How to Avoid Delays in Filling a Prescription

With the lengthy process of filling a prescription, it is helpful to know what you can do to avoid further delays and shorten how long your prescription takes to fill. 

Update Your Contact Information

It is very common for patient contact information to be incorrect in the pharmacy system. If you’ve moved or changed your phone number, it is a good idea to call your pharmacy and update your information. Similarly, if you’ve had a recent name change due to marriage you will want to ensure that the name on your prescription matches the name on your insurance card and in the pharmacy system. That way, if they need to resolve an issue, they can reach you quickly. 

Update Your Insurance Information

Along with your contact information, keeping your insurance policy information up to date is also key. With incorrect insurance information in the system, you might find that your prescription is delayed, or you will be asked to pay full price. Some pharmacies won’t fill your prescription at all until the insurance information is correct. It is always a good idea to present your insurance card when you present your prescription to ensure the pharmacy has the most accurate information. If you no longer have insurance and will need to pay the cash price, you can still get your prescription at a lower price with a prescription discount drug card

Contact the Pharmacy Before Arriving

If you want to avoid waiting around for your prescription to be ready, give your pharmacy a call before you make the trip over. This way, if there are any issues with filling your prescription, you can start working to resolve them before you arrive. 

If You Need a Refill…

Many prescription medications are written with additional refills allowed. When this is the case, it is a good idea to call the pharmacy and schedule your refill to be processed a few days before you run out of your medicine. This allows the pharmacy ample time to get it processed and filled and troubleshoot if there are any insurance issues or if it needs to be ordered. 

Purchase Your Filled Prescriptions with a Discount Drug Card

Using a discount drug card is one way you could save a little time and money at the pharmacy. The process of checking insurance can take a lot of time for the pharmacist, especially if the insurance information is incorrect or needs prior authorization. With a discount drug card from Easy Drug Card, you can save up to 80% on your prescriptions. Easy Drug Card provides “lower-of pricing” so that you are guaranteed to get the lowest possible price for your medications. Download your discount drug card by clicking here and present it the next time you visit your pharmacist

About Dr. Sarah N. Fischer

Dr. Sarah N. Fischer is a pharmacist completing a Clinical Neurology Research Fellowship specializing in pharmacologic management of neurologic disease states including epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s Disease, and other movement disorders. She received her doctorate of pharmacy degree from the University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences where she also practices in an outpatient neurology clinic. Dr. Fischer has previous experience working in a community retail pharmacy setting where she developed a passion for empowering her patients through education to help optimize their health outcomes.