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  Edition # 98  
San Francisco, 11-03-2012

Figure [1]: You can find the pharmacy chain Walgreens all over the U.S.

Michael If you're visiting from Europe and receive a prescription from a doctor in the U.S., you might be wondering where to pick up the prescribed meds. There's hardly any small pharmacy anywhere, but all you need to do is enter one of these big Walgreens chain stores and walk past all the shelves, all the way to the end of the center aisle until you arrive at a window counter at the back wall.

Looking through the hole in the wall, there's a pharmacist on duty. And while you might be used to the typical supermarket employee not being very knowledgable about particular products, except in which aisle they're located, these pharamacists are educated experts in their domain. You hand them your prescription and they start rummaging through the jars in the back, and if your meds are in stock, you'll receive them only minutes later in a generic bottle (Figure 3). Walgreens pharmacists also know about risks and side effects of prescriptions and will advise on how to ingest certain medications.

Figure [2]: Walk through the aisles, until the very end, until you hit a window with a pharmacist behind it.

You've read that correctly: Generic prescription pills at Walgreens don't come in the original manufacturer's packaging with fancy logos. Rather, the pharmacist behind the counter will repackage them by pouring pills from giant glass jars into tiny transparent plastic cylinder-shaped containers with an orange-yellowish tint for the individual patient. Then they simply slap on a Walgreens-branded adhesive label with instructions. This label has the patient's first and last name printed on it as well, so, if you're one of these people who like to snoop around in their host's medicine cabinets while paying a visit to the bathroom at a party, you get a pretty good idea on who is taking which prescription medicine.

The label also lists the number of allowed refills, which means that if all pills are used up, there's no need to go back to the doctor and get a new prescription. If the number of refills is still within the limits stated on the label, simply take the empty container back to Walgreens, and they'll pour more pills into it from their giant jar. To confirm it's really you receiving the meds, they ask for your address and compare your answer to the data about you that is stored in the computer along with the prescription. The computer is smart enough to trigger an alert if the used amount is way off the daily dose, and the pharmacist won't allow a premature refill in this case.

Figure [3]: The generic label on medications sold in the U.S. states the number of refills the pharmacist is allowed to perform.

Insured Patients typically don't pay the full amount for prescription drugs, but rather a fixed co-pay of a few dollars. Walgreens then gets the remaining amount from the health insurer. On some refills, the patient won't be charged a co-pay.

Doctors sometimes issue prescriptions electronically. The patient states where they prefer to pick up the meds, and the doctor then uses his computer to beam the prescription there. The pharmacy then calls the patient when the meds are ready to be picked up. Walgreen's robo dialers even call again a few days later to check in on the patient, and a computer voice asks if the medication is working as expected.

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