Refills, New Prescriptions, Auto-Refills, Why Does My Pharmacy Say I Have No Refills but Dr. Forster Says He Sent in a Prescription?

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Once again I am going to try to explain this common problem in the practice. I hope it will help you understand this common dilemma and what you can do to prevent it affecting your care.

By far the most common reason my office responds to a request for a refill with a “no” and yet the pharmacy won’t send you a refill that you request or that you had set up for auto refills is this –

I sent in a new prescription when we got together NOT a refill on the old prescription.

There are many reasons for this. For example, if another doctor prescribed the medication originally it is not possible for me to approve a refill. I must send in a new prescription.

What is the difference between a refill and a new prescription?

First a quick introduction to the (sometimes irrational) system for managing electronic prescriptions.

The key point to understand about prescriptions is that every prescription has a unique prescription number. Refills of that prescription share the prescription number (usually) but a new prescription does not. So, when your pharmacy tells you that it has no refills on a prescription they literally mean that that particular prescription (say Rx number 17654329) has no refills. They DO NOT mean that there isn’t another prescription for the same medication with the exact same dose and instructions. And they won’t check to see if there is another prescription waiting to be filled for that medication unless you talk to them and tell them to do so.

Prescriptions are handled like safe deposit boxes not like a checking account.

Each prescription has a unique number (kind of like a safe deposit box account) and when you ask whether there are refills for a prescription the pharmacy DOES NOT check to see if there is another prescription ready to be filled, because other prescriptions have a different number. You, however, imagine that you are asking if there are any prescriptions for that medication that you can fill now. In other words, you think that the pharmacy keeps track of the running balance of prescriptions for that medication kind of like a checking account. In this, sensible, system, each time the doctor sends in a prescription it would be added to the total number of “refills” available to you for that medication, and each time you get a prescription it would be withdrawn from that balance.

What can you do? Either talk to your pharmacist or get the pharmacy app for your pharmacy and sign up for online prescription review.

If you want to problem solve this issue you can either wait on hold for minutes to hours so you can talk to the pharmacy staff, and specifically ask whether there are any prescriptions that can be filled for the medication you need, or you can download the app for your pharmacy (say the Walgreens app or the CVS app) and then not only create an account but go through the additional steps that get you access to your pharmacy records online.

If you get the app, you will probably be the only one who knows who to get your prescriptions when you need them. You will have access to information that puts you in control. I strongly encourage you to do that.