Finding the right pharmacy
If you're looking for a new pharmacy to get your prescriptions filled, research the pharmacies in your area before you commit to being a customer. You can start by checking Angie's List for member ratings and reviews.
When you find a convenient, highly rated store, call the pharmacist to make sure the drugstore routinely stocks the prescriptions you use. Then visit the store to see the type of items it sells, including the products you typically buy. Find out if the drugstore has a website, and if so, does it offer online ordering and shipping to your home?
If you like to visit the store to do some light shopping, consider the store's location and hours of operation. Find out if the pharmacy's operating hours differ from the non-pharmacy part of the store.
Pharmacies that remain open 24 hours a day are ideal, particularly in case of an emergency. If you prefer to use a pharmacy that's more convenient to your home or workplace, but isn't open 24-hours, find a backup pharmacy with later hours or 24-hour service that you can use in case you have to fill a prescription in an emergency.
Chicago-based Walgreens pharmacist Nancy Salman sits at her desk, where she's available for patient consults. (Photo by Jason Madden)
Getting to know your pharmacist
All pharmacists, regardless of the size or scope of the drugstore, must be trained and licensed by the state pharmacy board in order to fill prescriptions. Most pharmacists display their credentials on a wall that's easily visible to customers behind the service counter. If these credentials aren't visible, ask about the pharmacist's education, training and ask to see his or her state license.
If you feel comfortable with the drugstore you have chosen and decide to use it to fill your prescriptions, be prepared. A good pharmacist will ask you if you are being treated for any health conditions by your primary physician. As a practicing medical professional, he or she will ask about other prescriptions you are taking to avoid possible drug interactions, and give you an opportunity to ask questions.
It's the pharmacist's duty to help you to better understand your medications and guide you to avoid unpleasant or dangerous side effects. The pharmacist should be patient and understanding and answer any and all questions that you have, including questions about suitable alternative or generic drugs that may cost less. A good pharmacist will help you feel comfortable sharing any concerns you have and most importantly, let you know that your questions are confidential and your information will be kept private.
Checking pharmacy and drug store services
National drugstore chains are the dominate providers of prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications. However, many larger supermarkets and big box chains operate their own pharmacies. Likewise, some drugstores and pharmacies are family owned and others operate on a regional scale.
In recent years, more drugstores have started offering a variety of wellness services that may include tests to check for high cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure and tuberculosis. Larger retail chain stores feature walk-in clinics at select locations that can diagnose and treat minor issues, such as sprains, strep throat or poison ivy. Some offer common vaccinations against such ailments as the flu and childhood illnesses like chickenpox, mumps and measles. Some drugstores even offer annual back-to-school, camp and sports physicals, as well as lifestyle programs such as smoking cessation.
For consumers who live in rural communities or more isolated areas without easy access to a nearby drugstore, consider using an online pharmacy. These retailers allow customers to visit their website to place orders for prescriptions and other essentials that can be shipped to their home. You'll find that many online drugstores offer added perks, such as health and wellness newsletters, and blogs to keep you informed and up-to-date on the lastest health care issues.
Retail health clinics
Some pharmacies and drug stores also offer health care via retail health clinics, a convenient option for consumers who need less urgent or non-emergency care provided by a nurse practicioner. Typical services at a retail health clinic include flu shots, blood pressure screenings and treatment for minor illnesses and injuries including flu, respiratory and ear infections, bee stings, small cuts and abrasions.
LEARN MORE: Angie's List Guide to Retail Health Clinics