January 31, 2011

Transferring Prescriptions

Mortar and pestleYesterday’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ran a front-page story that the Pennsylvania State Board of Pharmacy may consider instituting a rule like one in effect in neighboring Ohio. Under most circumstances in that state, a person cannot transfer a prescription between pharmacies more often than once a year. Such a regulation clearly limits consumer choice through restraint of trade.

So what arguments have been advanced to justify such a restraint? The main argument is set forth in this paragraph:
“We’ve had so many prescriptions being transferred, and every time a transfer occurs, there is an increased chance of error because they’re all done verbally,” said Ernest E. Boyd, executive director of the Ohio Pharmacists Association. Errors can occur in phone calls between pharmacists, with possible points of confusion including many drugs having sound-alike names or dosages being misunderstood.
The article also suggests that transfers can also result in prescriptions being active in multiple pharmacies, allowing the patient to purchase more drugs than he or she is entitled to.

It sounds to me as though pharmacists simply don’t want to be bothered with transfers or with competition.

Ohio is actually solving the wrong problem. In this age of computers and the Internet, one might think that the medical community could devise a way to communicate prescription information reliably and securely without having to dictate information over the telephone. If the prescription transfer process is broken, even transferring a prescription once in a year is hazardous.

Interestingly, one doesn’t hear about banks asking the government to limit money transfers because effecting them over the telephone is error-prone. Banks transfer billions of dollars every day, and—trust me on this one—banks are pretty good at doing it right. Maybe pharmacy schools need to add more computer courses to the curriculum.


  1. A few thoughts from a pharmacy tech:

    Federal law already limits all but the lowest level of drugs to one transfer, so this just makes all drugs equal in that arena.

    It's certainly true that bank computers talk to each other better than pharmacy computers; just make everyone buy Walmart's pharmacy program and most of the problem's solved. State pharmacy laws vary so much that pharmacists still often call on those transfers to verify,this would be more true back East.

    Banks actually have 3-7 days to complete transfers and will demand repayment if the funds aren'there. Pharmacies have 30 minutes and can't demand stuff back, but it would help cut down on fraud if we could.

    Since most pharmacies match prices locally, frequent transfers are a HUGE sign of fraud, fake scripts, and going to multiple docs and selling the extra drugs. This is why Medicaid often forces patients to only fill at one pharmacy, period.

    Is it a pain if you forget your medication on vacation, definitely. If customer service is lousy,you have to decide how badly you want to go elsewhere and do your homework before you transfer.

  2. In the UK, your doctor gives you a written prescription every time you need medication and you take it along to any pharmacy you like.

    One downside to this is that occasionally a pharmacist won't have the medication you require and you either have to wait until the next day for it to be delivered or go to another pharmacy.


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