Refilling a Prescription

Refilling a Prescription

Choose the Best Refill Option for You

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 and either wait for it or come back to pick it up at a later time.
  • By phone. Use the pharmacy's phone number listed on your medication 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 medication 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 medication 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, you'll need to plan ahead since it may take up to 2 weeks to receive your medicine.

Outgrowing your dose

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 medication or the co-pay, ask.

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 the refill.
  • 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.
  • 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 medication. 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 prescription.

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 medications 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.

When You?re Away From Home

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 medication — such as whether you should take it with or without food. If you're at all unsure about your medication, 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 medication 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 medications. Even over-the-counter medications (like cold medicines) or herbal supplements can sometimes affect how well prescriptions work or interact with prescription medications 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 still willing and eager to help — it's their job to make sure people take their medications safely and effectively.

Reviewed by: Letitia A. Kanar, PharmD, RPh
Date reviewed: June 2012

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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