NCPA: Wal-Mart order program won't benefit patients

September 21, 2009

A new, nationwide WAL-MART mail order prescription program raises several troubling issues that could negatively affect patients.

WAL-MART announced recently that is is expanding its prescription mail delivery program. The company said it made the decision in hopes of "making it easier to receive prescriptions regardless of whether or not customers live close to a pharmacy."

“Walmart’s $4 generic drug program has helped so many patients afford their medication needs, but unfortunately we’ve found there are still too many patients unable to take advantage of our low prices because they are home-bound or live too far from a Walmart or Sam's Club pharmacy,” said Dr. John Agwunobi, president of Walmart’s health and wellness division. “With this program, we’re able to provide consumers in every rural town or big city across America with more affordable prescription medicines through a convenient, free mail delivery system.”

The nationwide WAL-MART mail order prescription program raised several "troubling issues that could negatively affect patients," according to the National Community Pharmacists Association. In response, Bruce T. Roberts, RPh, NCPA executive vice president and CEO, issued the following statement:

“When WAL-MART launched a pilot program for mail order prescriptions in Michigan last May, we highlighted the unintended consequences of steering patients away from using community pharmacies. While WAL-MART contends they are saving patients money and offering more convenience, they fail to mention the downsides that come with mail order.

“Deliveries can be delayed, sent to the wrong address, or damaged. In a recent survey of patients, NCPA found that 48 percent received their prescriptions late and were put in a position to do without their medication. In addition, when bulk supplies are ordered, patients can wind up with an excessive amount of medications if any changes occur to what their doctor prescribes. 

“In fact, community pharmacies often have to help patients who are left waiting by their mailbox. Nearly 85 percent of patients report having to go to their community pharmacy to receive an emergency supply of their medication when delivery mistakes occur. We understand the financial strains occurring under our current health care system, and community pharmacists are more than capable of helping patients reduce cost.

“Most importantly, when patients use mail order they lose the face-to-face relationship that occurs inside their community pharmacies with clinically trained health care professionals who are dedicated to promoting safety and improving health outcomes. For patients with transportation issues, such as those who are homebound as a result of their health, 87 percent of community pharmacies offer home delivery, often free of charge. This allows the pharmacist-patient relationship to continue.

“Prescription medications offer tremendous therapeutic benefits when used correctly, but pose significant risks to patients when used improperly. It’s been estimated that $290 billion is spent annually on hospital, physician and other treatments for inappropriate medication use. Clearly, more patients risk potential adverse drug events and the resulting treatment costs if they gravitate towards WAL-MART’s mail order program.

“Our biggest concern is that since WAL-MART is such a driving and dominant force in the marketplace, that this program will be copied by other mass merchant retailers who feel compelled to try to follow suit. Prescription medications are life saving tools that improve the lives of patients, not general merchandise. Such a cavalier approach to health care is not going to strengthen America’s health care system.”