Here’s Why Your Pharmacist Won’t Fill Your Prescription — and What You Can Do About It

Here are four reasons why your pharmacist can refuse to fill your prescription:

1) The prescription is missing information.

Pharmacies receive prescriptions in a couple of different ways: Prescriptions can be physically dropped off, called in over phone, faxed, or electronically sent in. With prescriptions flying out of doctors’ offices, in some instances, they can get to pharmacies missing crucial information.

In order to fill your prescription, the pharmacy must have all of the necessary information to do so—like the strength of the medication, quantity, directions for use, prescription date, patient name, and the doctor’s signature. If something is missing, your pharmacist is required by law to contact your doctor’s office before dispensing any medication to you.

What can you do?

If your doctor writes a prescription and gives it to you during your appointment (which is becoming rarer these days), give it a quick look to ensure that it is complete. You don’t have to be a doctor or pharmacist to tell if certain things are missing.

If you notice that important information is missing, make sure to let the doctor know before leaving your appointment to avoid running into issues at the pharmacy.

2) The prescription is hard to read.

We’ve all seen terrible handwriting before, and doctors are notorious for having some difficult-to-read handwriting. If the pharmacist is unable to read the prescription that was dropped off, they are required by law to contact your doctors office and confirm the information first.

Handwritten prescriptions are certainly not as common these days due to the popularity of electronic prescriptions, but they still do exist and need to be deciphered by the pharmacist. It can be frustrating if you drop your prescription off only to find our that your doctor needs to be called due to illegible handwriting.

What can you do?

If you give your prescription a once-over and notice that it looks sloppy, be sure to leave your contact information with the pharmacy in case there are any problems. The pharmacy staff would prefer to alert you of any potential issues, rather than having you come back to the pharmacy to find out your prescription isn’t ready.  

3) The pharmacist doesn’t feel comfortable filling the prescription.

There are many reasons, including ethical and religious beliefs, for why a pharmacist may not feel comfortable filling a prescription. We saw this recently when a pharmacist refused to fill a prescription for misoprostol, a medication that is used to end a pregnancy. Pharmacists can refuse to fill a prescription based on their own moral beliefs, leaving a patient wondering what to do with their prescription. Luckily, there are things you can do.

What can you do?

A pharmacist is technically allowed to decline filling your prescription if he or she chooses to do so based on their moral beliefs. Because of that, try seeing if there’s more than one pharmacist working—if so, choose to speak with them. You can also try transferring your prescription to another pharmacy to be filled, although this can add some inconvenience.

4) The medication needs to be ordered.

Most people expect that the pharmacy has their specific medication in stock—after all, it is a pharmacy, right? Wrong. Unfortunately, pharmacies don’t keep every single medication ever made in stock, especially ones that are expensive as they could end up sitting on the shelves and expiring. Typically, pharmacies will need order your medication before they can fill it if it’s more expensive or less often used.

What can you do?

If you want to make sure the pharmacy has your medication on hand, call them ahead of time to double check. Most pharmacies can order an out-of-stock medication and have it ready for you the following day. If you can’t wait a full day, check with other pharmacies in your area to see if they have your prescription in stock.

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