Recently I’ve made a new friend, our local pharmacist. I had gone fifty-seven years without needing a long term prescription.
However, this year for my birthday I not only got my first prostate exam from a female doctor but also some Flomax samples (though peeing can be fun, I’d prefer to engage in this activity a bit less often).
In addition, the week after my physical exam I got a phone call about my blood test results. “Your cholesterol is 212,” I was told by the nurse. “That’s crazy,” I said. “It’s always been less than 190. I’ve been a strict vegetarian for thirty-five years. I don’t eat any meat at all. Yogurt is the only dairy product that I consume. I’m a poster child for good nutrition. Plus, my weight is normal and I get some exercise every day.”
“That’s nice,” she said. “Your total cholesterol is still 212 and your LDL cholesterol is 142. They’re both borderline high. You need to talk with the doctor.” Which I did last Monday. I walked out with another prescription: Lovastatin, 10 mg.
“Good god,” I thought, as I drove to Salem’s Oak Tree Pharmacy to pick up the prescriptions that my doctor had faxed in for Flomax and Lovastatin. “Mildly enlarged prostate. Mildly high cholesterol. Mild is nice, but I still feel like a middle-aged male cliché.”
I don’t like getting old. And neither do I like public announcements of my age-related health problems (cyberspace declarations like this one excepted). I wasn’t looking forward to standing at the pharmacist’s counter and having him describe my prostate and cholesterol medications both to me and everyone else within earshot.
My doctor had asked me where I wanted to have the prescriptions filled. I toyed with the idea of getting them from Drugstore.com or a similar online pharmacy. That way my Flomax and Lovastain would reach me in a nicely anonymous fashion and I might save some money to boot.
I decided to support my local pharmacy, though. And I’m happy that I did. I like Oak Tree Pharmacy. It’s small and personal. The owners’ German Shepherd used to stay with them in the store. The dog is gone now but the informal atmosphere remains. John, the pharmacist, spoke to me in appropriately hushed tones. He reassured me that 10 mg is a low dose of Lovastatin and is unlikely to cause any side effects.
Returning home with my bag of prescriptions, I noticed an issue of the University of California at Berkeley “Wellness Letter” sitting on the kitchen counter where we pile our mail. I flipped through it. I came across an article called “Why the pharmacist matters.” I read:
Few of us think of pharmacists as a professional resource. Indeed, many of us shop online and never see a pharmacist, or in a big chain store where the staff often changes, and the person who finds the prescribed drug in the rack and hands it over often is not the pharmacist at all.
If you seldom need a prescription, this may not matter. But if you or anyone in your family takes medication long term—for lowering blood pressure or cholesterol, or preventing bone loss, for example—it pays to know your pharmacist. Here’s why:
The “why” is that a pharmacist (1) understands the medications that you are taking and often is the best person to pinpoint the cause of side effects, (2) may be more readily available for answering questions than your doctor, and (3) can help you avoid interactions and allergic reactions and guide you to less-expensive generics.
Also, it just feels right to me to support a local independent pharmacist rather than buy online or at a giant corporate chain such as Wal-Mart. I already feel guilty buying as many books as I do from Amazon instead of one of Salem’s independent bookstores. Getting my prescriptions filled at Oak Tree Pharmacy helps me balance my bad book shopping karma.
I’d figured, though, that I was paying a substantial price for doing business with Oak Tree instead of Drugstore.com. I just found out that I was wrong. The online cost of my Flomax prescriptions is $57.99 at Drugstore.com (which they claim is an 18% discount). I paid $59.70 at Oak Tree Pharmacy.
And the Lovastatin was considerably cheaper at Oak Tree: $19.05 vs. $31.99 at Drugstore.com. Now, even though I haven’t met my Regence deductible, I still might be getting some sort of health insurance discount through Oak Tree. Regardless, the bottom line is that it is costing me less to buy the prescriptions locally through an independent pharmacy than if I ordered them online.
Speaking of Wal-Mart, a revealing documentary is about to be released on DVD: “Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price.” You can host your own screening or find out where to attend one.