What Is a Specialty Pharmacy?

A specialty pharmacy provides medications used to treat rare or complex health problems. Many times, these meds aren't used by many people, so a local pharmacy wouldn't keep them in stock.

These medicines may also:

  • Need special handling by the pharmacist and you (special storage or dosage instructions, for example)
  • Get injected or infused into a vein through an IV
  • Be given in a doctor’s office or hospital instead of at home
  • Require follow-up or other special care from a health care professional while you’re taking them.

You may also need instructions on how to take them.

Where Do You Find One?

In the U.S., they're licensed by states. Most of them are mail order. So instead of going into a building, you may order your medicines by phone. Your medical team will probably help you with this.

Your specialty pharmacy could be part of your hospital or health system. Or you may use one provided by your insurance company.

Some companies that run traditional pharmacies also run specialty ones. Your medical team should be able to point you in the right direction.

How Else Are They Different?

Unlike local pharmacies, specialty ones tend to be more involved in your health care. They can help you use your meds correctly. They'll probably follow up with you or your medical team after you start taking them, too.

They'll also communicate with your health care team. If you have a caregiver, they can work with them, too. Some even offer 24/7 assistance.

Medicine from a specialty pharmacy tends to be very expensive. Your health insurance may cover it, but your co-pay may be high. That’s why many of these pharmacies offer free financial services like counseling and insurance support. They may help you find special rebates or other programs to help cover the cost.

Who Uses Them?

Conditions that may require meds from a specialty pharmacy include:

How Do You Get Your Medicine?

You could get it through the mail or pick it up at your doctor’s office, your health care center, or the specialty pharmacy itself.

Not all medication for the above conditions comes from a specialty pharmacy.

If you’re not sure, talk to your doctor or health care team about what you’ve been prescribed.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on October 20, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

National Association of Specialty Pharmacy: “NASP Definitions of Specialty Pharmacy and Specialty Medications.”

National Association of Chain Drug Stores: “Specialty Pharmacy in Community Pharmacy.”

The University of Michigan/Michigan Medicine: “Specialty Pharmacy Services.”

The Pew Charitable Trusts: “Specialty Drugs and Health Care Costs.”

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