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Best Online Pharmacies

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Online pharmacies eliminate the need to leave your home to refill prescriptions to get quality medications. Use our guide to research the best online pharmacies for you. We explain what to look for when checking the legitimacy of a pharmacy and how consumers can minimize the risks associated with online pharmaceutical practices.

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What are considerations when using online pharmacies?

Is having prescription drugs delivered a safe option?

Home delivery is a convenient benefit that both brick-and-mortar and online pharmacies offer. People with recurrent prescription refills or long-term treatment plans as well as those who are unable to easily leave their house can use prescription home delivery to make sure they don’t miss any treatments or scheduled days.

  • Controlled distribution: All stationary and online pharmacies that practice good distribution procedures will use controlled distribution systems with drug manufacturers. This ensures drugs are validated and don’t contain dangerous ingredients or have no active ingredients at all.
  • Shipping conditions: Shipping and delivery through the mail can be a concern with temperature-sensitive prescription drugs. Factors such as the outside temperature and the temperature inside a mailbox can expose medications to conditions outside of their recommended storage temperature. Most legitimate pharmacies take this into consideration and properly package sensitive medications.
  • Risks: Most risks associated with online pharmacies are linked to unverified pharmacies that hold no licenses or accreditation and practice unsafe shipping or delivery methods. To eliminate the risk of receiving counterfeit or improperly shipped drugs, consumers should make sure the pharmacy is properly licensed and accredited.

How are pharmacies licensed and accredited?

Licensing and accreditation are important attributes to consider when looking for an in-store or online pharmacy. Pharmacies should be licensed for all states to which they distribute drugs and they need to have one or more accreditations with a National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) program. Four common accrediting organizations are the Verified-Accredited Wholesale Distributors (VAWD), the Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (VIPPS), the Utilization Review Accreditation Commission (URAC) and the Accreditation Commission for Health Care (ACHC).

  • VAWD accreditation: VAWD is recognized by the NABP and provides accreditation for pharmacies involved in wholesale drug distribution. To become VAWD-accredited, pharmacies must go through a rigorous review of their operating policies and procedures, licensure verification and an NABP screening.
  • VIPPS accreditation: VIPPS has been around since 1999 and is recognized by the NABP. It accredits pharmacies that uphold laws and meet high pharmacy-care standards.
  • URAC accreditation: URAC provides a common type of pharmacy accreditation. Consumers will often see that a pharmacy’s specialty treatment services are URAC-accredited.
  • ACHC accreditation: The ACHC is a nonprofit home health care organization that offers accreditation in seven health fields including pharmacy. It takes three years to become ACHC-accredited.

How do online pharmacies maintain security?

It is important to make sure an online pharmacy is safe and secure, not only to safeguard personal information but to make sure the drugs being delivered are safe. Aside from looking for licensing and accreditation, there are other steps to take to verify an online pharmacy is legitimate.

  • Legitscript: Legitscript is an NABP recognized, online verification and monitoring service for online pharmacies. Consumers can copy and paste an online pharmacy's web address into Legitscript’s verification tool to see if they are a legitimate company.
  • Check for a pharmacist: Consumers should not hesitate to call or email the pharmacy to make sure they can talk to a real pharmacist. Typically, an online pharmacy will have a 1-800 number to call should any questions come up about medications. Many online pharmacies have 24/7 access to a pharmacist.
  • Prescriptions required: Legitimate pharmacies will always require a prescription from a doctor or licensed healthcare professional. In most cases, the prescription can be provided in person or the pharmacy will call and get the prescription from an individual's doctor over the phone.

What kind of pricing and discounts do online pharmacies offer?

According to the Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies (CSIP), the cost of prescription drugs for Americans rose to $2 billion dollars in 2015 and continues to rise. Consequently, one of the biggest questions regarding online pharmacies revolves around how much consumers can save on generic, brand-name and specialty drugs. Chain pharmacies typically run specials and offer rewards programs and discounts for things like recurring refills. Consumers should be sure to check for any fine print and hidden fees or membership fees for discount programs.

  • Drug directories: Many pharmacies include a drug directory or drug price look-up tool on their website so consumers can compare pricing. Typically, the directory will show pricing for brand-name drugs compared with generic drugs. Consumers should be aware that their prescription drug insurance plans can affect these prices.
  • Discounts: Consumers who don’t have insurance can find discounts on generic drugs that rival or beat the cost of the same drugs for people with insurance plans. The most commonly seen discounts are for medications that require 30- and 90-day refills.
  • Rewards programs: Rewards programs are popular with larger chain pharmacies. After enrolling in a rewards program, customers will receive a savings card they can present each time they make a purchase. Rewards programs can save consumers anywhere from 5-20 percent on brand name and generic drugs as well as significant savings for 30- and 90-day refills.

What does it mean when online pharmacies offer specialty services?

Almost all reputable pharmacies are licensed and accredited to provide specialty services for consumers who have rare, chronic or complex diseases that need special, long-term treatment. Consumers should look for an accredited seal that shows the pharmacy can provide specialty services.

  • Specialty medications: Specialty medications include those taken orally, intravenously or by injection. They often require special storage and handling requirements and need to be taken on a strict schedule.
  • Included services: Specialty services include safe, on-time delivery of medications, refill reminders and free information about drugs, such as how speciality drugs interact with other drugs and how to administer injections at home. Specialty services are different for each condition but most pharmacies can provide services for those with conditions like cancer, cystic fibrosis, hepatitis C, HIV/AIDS, infertility or arthritis and those who are transplant patients.
  • Financial assistance: Many pharmacies have insight about foundations and organizations that cater specifically to rare and chronic conditions and will help patients enroll in financial assistance programs through them. Patients should talk to a pharmacist about criteria for financial aid through such organizations.

What kind of technology do online pharmacies use?

Consumers who prefer using computers or mobile devices over going to an in-store pharmacy can take advantage of the integrated online options most pharmacies provide. In most cases, pharmacies offer online portals that allow people to conduct tasks such as refilling prescriptions, placing new orders and scheduling home deliveries.

  • Online portals: Online portals allow consumers to create an account that will store personal information, insurance details and specific information about their prescriptions and medications. Consumers can also store their primary care doctor or licensed healthcare provider’s information so the pharmacy can call to get prescriptions and approvals for refills automatically.
  • Mobile app: Many chain pharmacies have mobile apps that integrate with their pharmacy services. Consumers can download the app and have access to unique and convenient features like refilling prescriptions by scanning a pill bottle, identifying drugs by their physical appearance, uploading an image of their insurance card and chatting with a pharmacy expert 24/7.

What are the different types of online pharmacies?


Traditional online pharmacies require a prescription from a doctor following an exam and will usually carry any prescription drug consumers can find at their neighborhood pharmacies. These pharmacies typically offer the lowest prices of any online pharmacy. Traditional online pharmacies in North America include major United States national chains as well as neighborhood pharmacies in the United States and Canada. Traditional online pharmacies also operate in India, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom and large domestic and international online pharmacy fulfillment centers.

Remote consultation

Remote consultation online pharmacies do not require a written prescription from a doctor after an in-person exam. Instead, they work with doctors who review people’s self-reported medical history and write a prescription if deemed appropriate. Remote consultations have been regarded as “substandard” practices by the American Medical Association because they do not put a customer's health first.

Who uses online pharmacies?

People looking to save money

The biggest selling point of an online pharmacy is the amount of money consumers can save. In most cases, people can save up to 50-80 percent by purchasing prescription drugs through an online pharmacy.

Elderly or homebound people

Elderly or homebound people with numerous prescriptions can keep them filled without leaving the house. Online pharmacies are convenient options that deliver prescriptions directly to their front doors.

Frequent pharmacy visitors

Most online pharmacies can schedule ongoing prescriptions to be refilled and delivered on certain days each month.

People looking to save time

People with important obligations such as work or a child's schedule may not have time to wait in line at an on-site pharmacy. Browsing prescriptions online and setting up delivery times can be a big time-saver.

Online pharmacy FAQ

Are mail order pharmacies regulated by the FDA?

No, mail order pharmacies are regulated by states in which they are doing business. Each state has a board of pharmacy that sets standards and regulations for pharmacies operating in that state.

Can I get a prescription without seeing a doctor?

In some cases, you can avoid having to make a physical trip into a doctor's office to receive a diagnosis and prescription. Advances in technology now allow us to do virtual or online visits with a doctor using a computer or smartphone. These visits have limitations but can often save time.

You shouldn’t trust or do business with any pharmacy that sells pharmaceuticals to those without a prescription. A pharmacy that does this is likely breaking laws and/or distributing unregulated and possibly dangerous medication.

What pharmacies will fill pet prescriptions?

Many of the largest pharmacy networks in the U.S. fill pet prescriptions — Target, CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid, Kmart and Costco all fill pet prescriptions in person. Several of these locations also count pet prescriptions as part of their rewards programs. Several pet supply companies also offer prescription services, including Chewy and Petco. Some pharmacies even work directly with pet insurance companies, so you don’t need to submit receipts for reimbursement.

Can a pharmacist give medical advice?

Pharmacists cannot diagnose your medical conditions. They can, however:

  • Offer advice for over-the-counter options for your symptoms
  • Talk to you about the side effects and possible interactions of your prescriptions
  • Tell you when it is necessary to visit a doctor
  • Help you choose diabetic supplies, vitamins and allergy medication

Pharmacists have different training from your physician, so speaking with one isn’t a replacement for a visit to the doctor's office.

How do I transfer a prescription?

To transfer your new prescription:

  1. You'll need the name(s), dosage(s) and prescription number(s) of the prescription(s) you want to transfer.
  2. Take this information, along with the contact information for your previous pharmacy and your physician, to the new pharmacy you want to use.
  3. Make sure you also describe your allergies and any other medicine — prescription and over-the-counter — that you're taking so the new pharmacy can check for drug interactions.
How can I save money on prescriptions?

There are several ways you can save on your prescriptions:

  • Ask if there are generic options.
  • Large, high-volume retailers usually have lower prices than small stores.
  • Ask your doctor if a larger dose pill that you can split would be a cheaper option.
  • Some pharmaceutical companies offer coupons or assistance through their websites.
  • Check to see if you are eligible for assistance from the government.
  • Look into prescription discount cards.
  • If you have health insurance, ask customer service if there is a preferred brand that may lower your copay.

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    Author reviews for online pharmacies

    Giant Eagle Pharmacy

    Giant Eagle Pharmacy offers consumers convenient options when it comes to filling and refilling prescriptions and specialty pharmacy needs. The company even offers refills for pet medication refills and contact lenses. Giant Eagle makes managing prescriptions easy with its online portal and offers savings on generic medications.

    Read more about Giant Eagle Pharmacy
    Publix Pharmacy

    Publix provides consumers with in-store and online pharmacy services in nearly 90 percent of its stores. From free medications, online prescription refills and specialty online pharmacy services, Publix has multiple options to make pharmacy services more convenient.

    Read more about Publix Pharmacy
    Wal-Mart Pharmacy

    Walmart operates in-store and online pharmacies in most of its supercenter stores. Its pharmacies provide customers with discount brand name and generic prescriptions for consumers or their pets. Prescription refills are easy and they offer home delivery for medications, including pet medicine.

    Read more about Wal-Mart Pharmacy
    Walgreens Pharmacy

    Walgreens Pharmacy is a widely-known provider of pharmaceutical services across North America. Walgreens’ online pharmacy is a quick, convenient way to get prescriptions refilled. Prescriptions can be delivered to a specific store and managed from anywhere with an Internet connection. Consumers can set up an account and manage their health from an online dashboard.

    Read more about Walgreens Pharmacy
    Costco Pharmacy

    Costco operates over 700 locations worldwide with many of those stores having pharmacies on site. Costco also provides online pharmacy services such as prescription refills, home delivery, fulfilling new prescription orders and fulfilling pet prescriptions. Consumers do not need to be a member of Costco’s membership program to participate in their online pharmacy services.

    Read more about Costco Pharmacy
    CVS Pharmacy

    After quiring Target in 2015, CVS is now the largest chain pharmacy in the United States, operating in over 9,000 locations. Its online pharmacy offers services such mobile prescription pickup, discount prescription drugs, new prescriptions and refill management and drug information.

    Read more about CVS Pharmacy
    RiteAid Pharmacy

    RiteAid has grown to become the third-largest drugstore chain in the United States. Operating mainly on the east coast, it provides multiple pharmacy services, both in-store and online. Services include prescription refills and transfers, one-trip refills, home delivery, Medicare Part D plans and specialty pharmacy services.

    Read more about RiteAid Pharmacy

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