Depending on what kind of pharmacy shopper you are, one choice may be better than another. Of course, it is best to first find a drug store that takes your insurance. Here are your basic options.
If you value personal service
The choice? Independent drugstore
Independents scored highest in every area of customer service. At least 90 percent of shoppers at independents rated their pharmacy as Excellent or Very Good in speed & accuracy, courtesy & helpfulness, and pharmacists' knowledge. No other type of drug store came close. Readers who shopped at independent stores were twice as likely as chain-drug-store shoppers to characterize their druggist as easy to talk to and able to give them a one-on-one consultation.
If you want one-stop shopping
The choice? Supermarket chain
People who switched to a supermarket pharmacy, from either a different type of drugstore or another supermarket, were most likely to list convenience as a reason. Together, the nation's 9,000 or so supermarket pharmacies came in second to independents. Eighty-four percent of readers who bought drugs there were highly satisfied. Supermarket pharmacies are appealing because you can shop while you wait for your medicine, and many provide frequent-shopper discounts, automatic refills, low-cost generics, free antibiotics, health screenings, immunizations, and more. Publix lets customers order online for in-store pickup, HyVee customers can get nutrition advice from registered dieticians, and Raley's shoppers can critique their pharmacy experience on the store's website.
If you like rewards programs
The choice? Pharmacy chain
Shoppers at pharmacy chains were far more likely to use store loyalty cards than were those who shopped elsewhere, and 87 percent of those who did so reported saving money. But you should know, even though more Americans buy their prescription medicine at traditional chains than at any other type of drug store, readers were more critical of them than of other drug-store types. The industry has shrunk to two titans, Walgreens and CVS, with more than 15,000 stores between them. Rite Aid is a distant third. The convenience of big chains is undeniable. They accept a variety of insurance plans. Many are open 24 hours a day, have a drive-through window, and give you the option of in-store pickup or mail delivery (often free). You can also fill prescriptions at any of the chain's locations (records are in a central database), which is helpful if you're out of town. Chain websites tend to be comprehensive and cutting edge, communicating offers through Twitter and Facebook. You can create a medical profile to help flag interactions, get alerts when your medicine is about to run out, have prescriptions refilled automatically, and print your prescription history. Walgreens has free iPhone and Android apps for refills and will send text alerts when prescriptions are ready. You'll find details about drugs and supplements and be able to print coupons. You can also e-mail the pharmacist and sometimes have a live chat.
If you're looking for the cheapest price
The choice? Big-box chain
Almost half of our readers who switched to a big-box pharmacy said they did so for better prices on prescription drugs. Our survey found that, on average, big-box customers spent the least out-of-pocket on medications. Most who shopped at stores such as Kmart, Bi-Mart, and Sam's Club cited low prescription prices as an important reason for shopping there. Sam's Club and Costco stores open their pharmacies to nonmembers. Customers can visit a Target in-store clinic for diagnosis and treatment of minor illnesses and injuries for a fee of $75. But service lags. Many mass-merchant shoppers complain of long waits during some of their visits, and when the store is out of a drug, some people have reported waiting two or more days for it. Walmart was among the two lowest-rated stores overall--along with CVS--in all categories, including speed and accuracy, courtesy and helpfulness, and the knowledge of their pharmacists.
If you're a homebody
The choice? Mail order, maybe
Mail order can make sense if you want your drugs to come to you. But be aware that there have been some complaints about service. If possible, choose a mail-order company that confirms orders before shipping. Although ordering by mail can be convenient, it's less personal and can lead to errors in communication. Even after you've discontinued a drug, for example, a mail-order company might keep sending and charging for refills until you tell it to stop. As of Jan. 1, 2014, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services required mail-order pharmacies to obtain consent from a patient or caregiver before shipping a new prescription or refill.
Before using an online-only site, look for a Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (VIPPS) seal, indicating completion of a voluntary accreditation program through the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. You can also find accredited sites at legitscript.com.