Get a Paper Prescription…If You Can

A couple of days ago my dermatologist suggested I try a prescription form of cortisone for a small, funny spot on my leg. His staff assistant. asked me  what pharmacy I wanted the prescription sent to. Then she emailed it for me.  So far so good.

But when I got to the pharmacy, it was closed due to a neighborhood power outage. When I circled back after the outage was fixed, the pharmacy couldn’t find the emailed prescription. Not a big deal, since it was only a cream for a funny spot. But I couldn’t help think what a hassle that would have been for someone who was sick, tired, disabled, or lived far away.

I also realized that although the doctor told me what he was ordering, I wasn’t sure what percentage of medication he had ordered. Because I didn’t have his written prescription in hand, how would I be able to check to be sure I got the right drug and the proper dose?

So here’s my new policy, something I would recommend you adopt as well: Any time a physician prescribes something, ask him or her to write a paper version as well, as back up.

Not only will you be able to use the paper prescription  to check to be sure your pharmacist is giving you just what the doctor ordered, but you’ll be able to take it anywhere you want. If the first place you go to is expensive, or closed, or there’s a long line, you are free to get the drug elsewhere.

If the drug is something you’ll be using for awhile, having the paper prescription is also a handy thing to tuck in your suitcase when you travel. If you forget to pack the drug or if it runs out while you’re away from home, you’ll be able to replace it.

Unfortunately, paper prescriptions may be becoming a thing of the past. 

Just recently, a New York Times article described how a new law in New York  — designed to reduce the number of multiple narcotic prescriptions issued — makes writing a prescription by hand illegal:

“Starting on March 27, the way prescriptions are written in New York State will change. Gone will be doctors’ prescription pads and famously bad handwriting. In their place: pointing and clicking, as prescriptions are created electronically and zapped straight to pharmacies in all but the most exceptional circumstances.

 “New York is the first state to require that all prescriptions be created electronically and    to back up that mandate with penalties, including fines and imprisonment, for physicians who fail to comply. Minnesota has a law requiring electronic prescribing but does not penalize doctors who cling to pen and paper.Just as doctors putting away their pads will face a culture change in New York, so, too, will patients, who will no longer be able to shop around for the shortest waiting time or the best price for their medications.”

In the Meantime

If you live somewhere other than New York, ask for the paper version…while you still can. And even if the doc can’t give you the prescription, be sure to ask him or her to write down the name of the drug and the prescribed dose, just so you know.

About Barbara Bronson Gray, RN, MN

I'm an experienced healthcare and science editor and journalist. But most of all, I'm a registered nurse with many years of experience working in hospitals. I've learned what patients and families need first hand. But I've also worked to improve hospitals and educate people about their health. I'm committed to helping people take charge of their health care and get what they need from a complex and often discouraging healthcare system.
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