Has your doctor included refills on your prescription? Check the label. If the
label shows a number next to the "refills" section, that's how many times you can
get more of your medicine without going back to see your doctor.
There are several ways to refill your prescription:
In person. Go to the pharmacy where you originally filled
your prescription, request a refill, and either wait for it or come back
to pick it later.
By phone. Use the pharmacy's phone number listed on your medicine
label to call in your refill. Most large pharmacies or chain stores have automated
menus that you can use anytime, day or night (though of course you'll have to wait
for store hours to pick up your refill). The voice prompts will lead you through the
process. At smaller pharmacies, you might speak to the pharmacist or pharmacy technician
directly. You also can download smartphone apps that let you refill your prescription
without making a phone call.
Online. If your pharmacy lets you reorder a prescription online,
you may still have to go to the store to pick it up.
By mail. People who take medicine regularly (such as every day
to manage a health condition) can sometimes refill prescriptions by mail. This option
is convenient because you can often get your medicine in batches (say, a 3-month supply
of allergy pills) if your doctor gives you a prescription for that amount. Ask your
doctor about this option. If you want to use the mail-order option, plan ahead because
it may take up to 2 weeks to get your medicine.
If your prescriptions are covered by health
insurance, be sure to tell the pharmacy if your insurance has changed since you
last filled your prescription. If you're not sure about the cost of your medicine
or the co-pay, ask
so you don't get an unexpected surprise. Some health insurance programs have specific
instructions on how and where you can fill your prescriptions.
Use the Label
No matter how you choose to refill a prescription, it will be easier if you have
all your prescription information handy. Most of what you need is printed on the label.
The prescription label is usually wrapped around the medicine bottle. In some cases
— especially with medicines like eye drops and skin creams — it may be
stuck on the outer box instead. Check the box when you first get your prescription
so you don't throw it out by mistake.
What if you know your prescription is refillable but you threw the bottle or carton
away? You can call or go in person to the pharmacy where you got the prescription
filled and ask them to look it up in their database. They may ask for ID or want to
see your prescription card before giving you a refill, so make sure you bring your
cards with you, just in case.
Here's what to look for on the label:
Pharmacy phone number. This is the number you'll call to place
Prescription number. This number is often shown as "Rx#" on the
label. Although a pharmacist can look up your prescription in the computer, the refill
process will go a lot faster if you have this number handy as it is the short code
for your prescription.
Refills remaining. The prescription label will tell you how many
refills you have left. Most labels show a number of refills with a cutoff date. If
you refill your prescription before that date, you should be able to place your order
with no problem. However, if the label says something like "Refills require authorization"
or if your refills have expired, you'll need to get in touch with the doctor who prescribed
the medicine. Sometimes the pharmacy can do that for you, but other times the doctor
will want to see you or talk to you before authorizing the pharmacy to refill the
Make Sure You Don't Run Out
Probably the trickiest part about refilling a prescription is remembering to check
when you're running low. If you wait until you've taken your last pill to place your
refill, and for some reason end up having to wait for it, it could be a mere annoyance
— or a major ordeal. Missing even one daily dose of some medicines can be dangerous.
On the flip side, if you try to get a jump on things and place a refill weeks in
advance, your insurance might not cover it. So keep your eye on the bottle and try
to time your refill so the pharmacy has a few days to get things ready for you —
especially if they're going to need to contact your doctor.
Talk to the Pharmacist
When you pick up your refill, you'll probably be asked if you have any questions
for the pharmacist. This is a good time to go over how you should be taking the medicine
— such as whether you should take it with or without food. If you're at all
unsure about your medicine, ask to see the pharmacist. Most pharmacies ask you to
sign a "waiver" if you don't have questions.
Since you've already been taking the medicine for a while, you might have noticed
side effects. For example, does your acne cream leave your face red and irritated?
Do you notice headaches after using your prescription eye drops? These are all good
things to mention to your pharmacist — especially as people can sometimes notice
new side effects even after they've been taking a medicine for many years.
When you pick up your prescription, let your pharmacist know if you've started
using any new medicines. Even over-the-counter medicines (like cold medicines) or
herbal supplements can sometimes affect how well prescriptions work or interact with
prescription medicines to cause health problems.
If the pharmacy seems busy or you don't want to ask about something personal (like
birth control) in front of other people, call and ask to speak to the pharmacist after
you leave. Mention that you just refilled your prescription and have questions. No
matter how busy they are, pharmacists are eager to help — it's their job to
make sure people take their medicines safely and effectively.