Ordering your medications by mail is not new, but did you know that scientific studies suggest ordering by mail might actually be better for you?
Online pharmacies have evolved as a major source for ordering prescriptions in recent years. Being able to order the specific medication you need, often at a lower price, has been an allure for many people – even though the U.S. government warns against ordering online from pharmacies outside the U.S.
But other than price and convenience, there is growing evidence that ordering online has a health benefit over getting your prescriptions filled the traditional way at your local pharmacy or health center.
Several Studies Report Benefits Of Online Ordering
One such study, published in 2010 in the Journal of Medical Economics  found that patients using a mail order pharmacy stayed on their prescribed medication regimen better than patients using a traditional, in-store pharmacy.
The study involved more than 14,000 diabetic patients who filled their prescriptions for oral anti-diabetes medications in a brick and mortar store pharmacy for at least six months and then changed to a mail order pharmacy for at least 12 months. An additional 43,000 patients in the study had used a retail pharmacy continuously for at least 18 months. The study found that just 63.4 percent of the patients who used a retail pharmacy stuck with their medications, compared to an 84.8 percent rate for those who switched to mail order. Additionally, the patients’ costs for their prescriptions were also different. The healthcare and total medical costs were on average $34.32 and $37.54 lower for the mail order group, respectively. Diabetes-related medical costs alone were on average $19.14 lower in the mail order group, while pharmacy costs were $14.13 higher.
Why did patients who ordered their medications via mail order fare better? The study didn’t come to specific conclusions, but did suggest that mail order offered patients a higher level of safety and affordability, and that mail order offered an automatic refill reminder system that patients found helpful. The online pharmacies also offered 24/7 access to pharmacists when patients needed assistance or had a question or concern.
Yet another study, this one in 2011 showed that patients taking cholesterol-lowering medications delivered by mail order achieved better cholesterol control compared to those patients who got their prescriptions from a pharmacy . The study involved more than 100,000 patients that used statins to control their cholesterol levels. After reviewing the data researchers were able to determine that 85 percent of patients who used a mail-order pharmacy achieved their target cholesterol levels, compared to 74.2 percent of patients who only used an in store pharmacy. While the researchers cautioned that mail order might not be right for all patients, it is one “tool in the broader health care system-level toolbox that can help patients meet their medication needs.”
The study was similar to and had similar results as a 2010 study among patients with diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels that showed they were more likely to take their medications when they ordered them by mail.
Another study in 2011  also found that patients filling 90-day prescriptions for nine therapeutic groups of medications (anti-asthmatics and bronchodilators, antidepressants, anti-diabetics, anti-hyperlipidemics, anti-hypertensives, beta blockers, calcium channel blockers, diuretics, and thyroid agents) at retail pharmacies had a higher rate of usage than for patients filling prescriptions via mail order – but the difference was only 77 percent vs. 76 percent.
Finally, a study commissioned by a chain of drug stores and published in the Journal of the American Pharmacists Association  took almost 325,000 participants enrolled in health plans that had the choice of using either a mail order pharmacy or in store pharmacy to obtain their medications. The results were mixed, with more than two-thirds of the consumers choosing a mail pharmacy over a retail pharmacy. But, the decision to use mail was heavily influenced by a consumer’s prior use of a retail or mail pharmacy for maintenance prescriptions. Previous mail order users tended to stick with mail and previous store pharmacy users tended to stick with that option. â€¨For new customers the choice was more often mail order.
“Some health insurers and pharmacies offer mail order service, yet many people don't know about the option, or are unsure of how it works,” said Randell Correia, doctor of pharmacy and senior vice president of a pharmacy benefits management company. “Mail order pharmacies deliver prescriptions through the mail, and often at a substantially lower cost. What's more, getting your prescription through mail order may also improve your health.”
Addressing the issue of the safety of mail order prescriptions, Correia says, “certified mail order facilities employ highly trained, licensed pharmacists who verify the medication and dosage of each prescription. Before the medication is shipped, a final quality and safety check is made.”
That echoes what the government says. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says when using mail order to get medications, make sure the mail order site requires a prescription and has a pharmacist available for questions, buy only from licensed pharmacies located in the United States, and don't provide personal information such as credit card numbers unless you are sure the site will protect them.
 A Comparison of Diabetes Medication Adherence and Healthcare Costs in Patients Using Mail Order Pharmacy and Retail Pharmacy. 2010. Journal of Medical Economics. Vol. 13, No. 2, Pages 203-211
 The Comparative Effectiveness of Mail Order Pharmacy Use vs. Local Pharmacy Use on LDL-C Control in New Statin Users. Journal of General Internal Medicine. Volume 26, Number 12 (2011)
 Medication Adherence for 90-Day Quantities of Medication Dispensed Through Retail and Mail Order Pharmacies. American Journal of Managed Care. 2011;17(11):e427-434
 Revealed Preference for Community and Mail Service Pharmacy. JJ Am Pharm Assoc. 2011;51:50-57. doi:10.1331/JAPhA.2011.09161