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Switching Pharmacies Is Hard on the Heart

Eric Lagergren

February 26, 2009

I’ve written before about some of the time-consuming chores that accompany managing my Type 1 diabetes. It’s never-ending, and so when I have a month or two where things go smoothly, months devoid of the runaround, be it the doctor’s office or the blood lab or phone calls with insurance providers and health-care management people or multiple monthly trips to the pharmacy, I don’t take it for granted. I bask in the lack of to-do.

Lately, though, it’s that last one — going to the pharmacy to refill prescriptions — that’s been difficult for me. Yes, readers, some of you have commented before that I should look into mail-order prescriptions or 90-day refills on my scrips. I noted your helpful advice, but I refused to take action at any time these past two years.

Why would I deprive myself of the ease of prescriptions delivered through the mail and instead drive two miles, one-way, at least two, maybe three times a month? Because, well, I enjoy the face-to-face, and, as I’ve also written, I like the process. Oh, and because we — or at least I — tend to stick with those who brung us, be it a health-care provider, an insurance company, a doctor, or a pharmacy. The bureaucracy that surrounds, engulfs, ensnares, and is unavoidable in the U.S. healthcare system is daunting enough the first time around. Why switch for switching’s sake, unless you’re one who enjoys the labyrinth of automated phone systems and you tend to be masochist for filling out form after form after form?!

So, unless, I experience an egregious error in care or service, or a wonderful alternative presents itself, chances are that I’m usually locked in to what I started with.

To date, I’ve had no complaints with the Rite-Aid pharmacy that fills my prescriptions. Yeah, finding half an hour to make the trip to the pharmacy can be annoying, but when I go in, they know me by name, chat with me, refill the prescriptions promptly, and do whatever they can to expedite my time in the store. It’s my own little pharmaceutical Cheers; I mean, I looked forward to going in and seeing them, one in particular because she was always in a good mood and happy to talk about any concerns I had regarding my diabetes care.

But not all good things last, and now I’m bailing on Rite-Aid — I’m in the process of leaving them for another pharmacy. And as cheesy as it may sound to say this about a corporation, I feel a bit like I’m betraying a good friend. You see, Walgreen’s Mail Service offers something that Rite-Aid doesn’t. They’ll send me my prescriptions. In the mail. To my home.

Just like many of you have said.

In Rite-Aid’s defense, they do do automatic refills of my scrips. Two months ago, I switched to that system with the hope that I could make only one trip a month to pick up the three main scrips that I take, which were on a 30-day refill schedule. I thought I’d try that before asking my doctor for 90-day prescriptions, which I could use at the Rite-Aid or with the Walgreen’s service.

Rite-Aid told me that I’d get an automated phone call when the prescriptions were ready. Sounds great! I also understood that things were synched up so that all scrips would be ready at the same time.

I was wrong.

Ten days ago, I got an automated phone call that my order was ready and that I had until February 26 to pick it up. A few days after the call, I went to the store, made the small talk, and then, when the tech came back with my prescription, she came back with one prescription. A prescription. Uno. Not the three I wanted to get during that trip.

Not what I was expecting.

She told me that those hadn’t triggered to be refilled yet. I asked if I could get them refilled, but the insurance wouldn’t cover it yet. After more conversation (friendly, not agitated), I learned that it there’s no way, really, to synch them up.

So, basically, I’d have to go back in a week or two to get another scrip, then in another week or two, pick up another scrip, and a few days later get the other one that triggered, and on and on ad infinitum; lather, rinse, repeat, repeat, repeat.

Moving to Walgreen’s Mail Service was a decision I didn’t make lightly. I knew the transition would be fraught with hurdles, filled with forms, faxing, phone calls, and frustration. I also foresaw an uneasy period during which I wouldn’t know from where the next few weeks’ worth of medication would come. Okay, six days left of this drug, and about 10 days of that one, and I could probably stretch out the insulin just a little while longer and not change my reservoir until I’m down to the very last drop…

But what if I do run out? Will the supplies reach my mailbox in time? Yes, I’m sure that my scrips at Rite-Aid won’t just fade away, even though I’ve canceled the automated refills. The truth, however, is that I don’t want to go back there now and face them. What if they know? What if they call me out? Why did I break up with them? They’ll be sorry to see me go. I’ll have momentary regret. It’ll be tough.

Oh, it’ll be fine, really. I’m just in the midst of a tough transition. Soon, though, the initial wrinkles will get ironed out and I’ll settle happily once more into pharmaceutical monogamy.



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