Internet Pharmacies — the good, bad, and unknown facts

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Every day we receive a couple dozen requests for prescription refills.  Requests range from wanting to pick medications up at our office, have them called in to human pharmacies, or from internet pharmacies.  We are happy to fill prescriptions as long as we are legally able, your pet is up to date on any required testing, and the medication is correct.  However, there’s more to pharmacies than meets the eye.

Medications dispensed directly from our in-hospital pharmacy are always guaranteed by the manufacturer.  This is important, especially for parasite preventatives.  If your dog is on a heartworm and intestinal parasite preventative dispensed by our office, and contracts one of these diseases, the manufacturer will cover any cost of additional diagnostics and treatment.

Online pharmacies come in two forms — those authorized on behalf of a veterinary office (e.g. VetStreet, which you can access through the Pet Portal on our website), and those acting independently.  Medications dispensed by VetStreet are covered by the same guarantees as those dispensed directly from us.  This is because we work directly with medication manufacturers to ensure the safe supply and approved dispensing of these medications — there are no middle men.

Independent online pharmacies may or may not be reputable.  Some of them carry medications purchased through back channels, and none of the products sold through these sites are guaranteed by the manufacturers.  This means that if the products fail to work, the manufacturer will not reimburse you for any treatments required.  In some cases, the medications or foods sold through them may also be counterfeit.  Many pharmacies are working to prevent this, but as the products are purchased through third parties, it is harder to verify their authenticity.  Similarly, manufacturers are unlikely to guarantee preventatives purchased over the counter at third party stores.

Human pharmacies can be a valuable asset for your pet’s medications.  They may carry medications that are used more frequently for human patients, and which are not regularly stocked in a veterinary pharmacy.  However, they rarely carry veterinary-specific products (many of the medications we use are not used in human medicine or have a different formulation), and any veterinary-specific products they do stock are not covered by a manufacturer’s guarantee.

From time to time, we also run into difficulties with prescriptions being filled externally with incorrect instructions or incorrect warnings applied.  The side effects, dosing, and nomenclature are all different between human and veterinary medicine.  Human pharmacists usually receive no training in veterinary pharmacology (only veterinarians receive formal instruction), so are often unaware of differences.  The computer systems used by human pharmacies are also set up to deal with information from human doctors, but do not have any way of accommodating veterinarian prescriptions, so there are occasional clerical errors.

Ultimately, when deciding where to have your prescriptions filled, consider the following:

(1) Will your product be guaranteed by the manufacturer?  If the medication fails to prevent a disease (e.g. heartworm, intestinal parasites) or to treat one properly, do you want to have the cost of any additional diagnostics and treatments reimbursed?

(2) Does the pharmacy carry the medication or food you are looking for?  Do they have experience dispensing for veterinary patients and understand the difference between feline or canine patients and human ones?

(3) Are you interested in rebate offers or “buy X, get Y free” offers?  These are usually provided by manufacturers for medications dispensed through veterinary hospitals’ pharmacies in order to ensure you can buy guaranteed product without sacrificing on price.

Wherever you decide to have prescriptions filled, please double check all labels to make sure they reflect the instructions your veterinarian described to you.  Make sure the source is guaranteeing the product was sourced directly from a manufacturer, not through a third party.  Make sure your pet is up to date on any testing recommended, and has had a comprehensive physical exam with one of our doctors within the last year to ensure we are allowed to approve prescriptions right away.

We aim to address all prescription refills within one business day of their receipt, whether requested by phone, our website, via email, your Pet Portal, or another source.  If we have any concerns or need to update your pet’s care before dispensing the medication, our office will contact you within one day.  Please plan a few days ahead to make sure we can continue medications without interruption.

If you have additional questions or concerns regarding your pet’s prescription(s), please contact us.  We’re always happy to discuss different options with you to make sure you are 100% comfortable.

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