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The Price Is Always Right

Harold E. Cohen, RPh
Editor-in-Chief


1/20/2011

US Pharm. 2011;36(1):1.

Few things disturb me more than hearing people who understand little or nothing about the profession of pharmacy suggest that patients shop around for the best prescription price.

Since the opening of the first “drug stores” in the United States during the early 19th century, pharmacists have had to balance operating a business with practicing a profession, a fact that hasn't changed in nearly two centuries. Today's retail pharmacies are still dealing with the dichotomy of running a business and offering patients the best pharmaceutical care. In today's economic climate, pharmaceutical care is winning out, with many stores closing because they cannot meet their financial obligations for reasons that include pathetic reimbursements from third-party payers. But up to the day the shelves are emptied and the doors are officially shut, you can bet that the pharmacists in those stores will continue to serve patients with their professional advice and guidance.

Sadly, there is no shortage of commentators in the broadcast and political arenas who persist in urging patients to shop around to get the “best price” for their medications. Unfortunately, this is happening in every nook and cranny of this great country of ours.

This was recently brought to my attention by an article posted on the Internet by LocalNews8.com, “Eastern Idaho and Western Wyoming's #1 News Source.” At the heart of the report was just another chain-versus-independent pricing story. To be fair, the reporter did a pretty good job of presenting all sides of the prescription-cost argument, but the headline of this piece was very misleading: “Prescription Drug Prices Differ by Pharmacy.” To me, the sentence subliminally suggests that patients fill their prescriptions at pharmacies that offer lower cost for their medications. But nowhere in the article does it mention the pitfalls of jumping from one pharmacy to another based on prescription pricing alone. Nowhere does it mention the potential for serious, or even fatal, drug-drug interactions resulting from patient histories failing to properly record in each of the switched pharmacies. While patients may be saving a few dollars, they have no real understanding of the chances they are taking by filling prescriptions in multiple pharmacies.

During these difficult economic times, I understand that it is tempting for patients to shop for bargain prices. But before dishing out that kind of advice, the media ought to consider what they are condoning. Would they suggest that patients shop around for a doctor based on price alone?  After all, doctors' fees vary from one practice setting to another, right? Or should patients bid out their surgery to the least expensive surgeon? As ludicrous as it sounds, that is exactly what patients are doing by shopping around for their prescriptions; they just don't know it.

It is arguably easier for physicians to hide the reality that they are running a business than it is for a retail pharmacy because the store venue oftentimes doesn't lend itself to a professional environment. That is why it is vitally important for pharmacists to keep reinforcing the fact that the value of a prescription goes far beyond just the cost of the medication. Patients are paying for the pharmacist's knowledge in filling each and every prescription written for them by their physician. When it comes to professionalism, the price of a prescription is always right.

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