PillPack is an online pharmacy and health service that delivers your prescription medications, plus any vitamins and over-the-counter (OTC) pills you want to add, in packets marked with the date and time you should take them. You can get non-pill meds, such as inhalers, alongside your packets, too. If your insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid plan is accepted, you pay the same prices that you would at any other supported pharmacy. As a concept, PillPack is just as brilliant now as it was in 2014 when we first reviewed it. In practice, however, it has slipped considerably in online usability, customer communication, and quality control.
Thankfully, PillPack isn’t the only pharmacy that sorts your meds for you ahead of time. Companies such as CVS and Scriptassist are making headway, too. We haven’t reviewed any PillPack competitors so far and thus can’t say which one is best—yet. You might get lucky with PillPack and have no problems, but if you aren’t sold on using this Amazon-owned company, it’s still helpful to know that it’s not the only game in town.
How Much Does PillPack Cost?
When you sign up to use PillPack, you pay for medications just as you would at any other pharmacy. If you have health insurance or some other kind of discount for prescriptions, you find out during the signup process whether PillPack accepts it.
The service is an in-network pharmacy for “a majority of Medicare Part D plans,” but it doesn’t support Medicare Part B. It supports Medicaid programs in New Hampshire, Ohio, and Texas, as well as several specific plans nationwide. It also does not support Kaiser Permanente insurance plans. See more on PillPack’s FAQ on the subject.
Just as with other pharmacies, you may end up owing a co-pay or paying out of pocket until you hit a deductible limit. You also pay out of pocket for any OTC medications that you want to add.
There are currently no other charges or fees. You can choose to buy a reusable dispenser for your medication packets for $15, but if you don’t, you get a paper box dispenser that’s recyclable instead.
Before Amazon acquired the company, PillPack had crazy low prices for some of its vitamins. For example, when we reviewed the service in 2014, we found a month’s supply of vitamin D3 cost just 83 cents, which is less than $3.50 for 4 months. In a store, an equivalent bottle of a four-month supply ran $14-$18. These days, a 50mg dose of vitamin B complex costs $5.51 per month.
What Is PillPack’s Packaging Like?
Your prescriptions come in a dispenser box, with the packets of pills rolled up inside it. Each packet has a date and time, plus a list of the medications that are included. The packets are dispensed sequentially so that you can make sure that you not only take pills on the right day, but can also see if you’ve accidentally skipped a day.
On the side of the box you see your full list of medications with an image of each pill. It allows you to know which pill is which so you can double-check you’re taking the right meds at the right time of day.
If you have additional prescriptions that are not pills, they come in a separate package.
Signing Up for PillPack
To use PillPack, you must sign up online and have all your personal information and details of your insurance at hand. This includes the last four digits of your social security number, date of birth, sex, allergies and health conditions, as well as the ID number, Rx BIN, Rx Group, and Rx PCN from your insurance card. You’ll also need your doctor’s name. Enter it along with your ZIP code, and PillPack tries to find the correct doctor and their contact information.
In an ideal setup, you enter all this information, and PillPack gets in touch with your doctor and insurance plan to transfer your prescriptions and start dispensing your meds through the mail. You have an opportunity to add OTCs using your online account and pay for them with a credit card.
In testing the service, we tried to update an account that’s been open for a few years. After a day or two of entering changes and exploring OTC options, we suddenly were locked out.
To get access to the account again, we had to contact customer service, who then insisted they handle updating the account and adding new medications, rather than simply granting us access again. We explained that we don’t have any prescriptions and merely wanted to try the service using OTC options for now.
The customer service rep explained that we would have to request our OTC medications via email, rather than giving us immediate access back into our account, and that they would look up our requests and come back to us with pricing. This made the process needlessly more complicated because it took 11 emails to wrap it all up. After turning down some gummy vitamins that can’t go into the signature pill packs anyway, we finally settled on two vitamins, taken once per day in the morning, that would cost a little more than $10 per month total.
Prior to being locked out of the account, we had an opportunity to search for OTC medications, which was a trying experience. You don’t get to see a list of options or side-by-side comparisons, such as all the dose sizes for a particular type of vitamin and what type of pill it is (gel, capsule, etc.). You can only search for and view one item at a time. That’s not a good experience.
Delivery With PillPack
PillPack didn’t ship our packets right away, but instead waited until it was close to the end of the month. The first date on our packets was June 1, and we received it a few days before the end of May.
Each dispenser box measures 6 by 3.25 by 6 inches (HWD). It dispenses your pills in the order you should take them, with each pouch saying exactly what it contains: how many pills for each medication, its name, and dosage. At the top, you see the date and time of day alongside an icon showing day or night.
In 2014, the dispenser had a great feature, a window on the box showing your next packet. The dispensers used today no longer have it.
PillPack Customer Issues
Our experience ordering from PillPack wasn’t smooth, but we had no problems with the box that we received. However, we did notice other people online with common complaints about incorrect doses and pills being crushed or broken inside the packets.
Dr. Ted Vickey was among them. Vickey is a part-time faculty member at Point Loma Nazarene University and a member of the med-tech community. His PhD research dealt with disruptive health technologies. He shared with us some details of his ongoing problems with the service. In particular, he said he has repeatedly received the incorrect dose of a medication from PillPack, and after months of trying to correct it, the problem persists. It’s worth noting that Vickey’s is a single anecdote, but also that his was not the only complaint we found online.
We take these complaints more seriously than we would reports of hiccups from other delivery services. After all, if a meal delivery service sends you the wrong amount of ginger for a recipe, the taste might be off, but chances are it isn’t going to kill you. When it comes to prescription medicines, taking the wrong amount might very well be life-threatening.
It’s also worth noting that for certain patients, such as those with vision impairments or cognitive issues, verifying medications on their own by reading the side of the PillPack box or the individual packets may be impossible. For such patients, going to a pharmacy and verifying medications with another human being may outweigh the benefits of using PillPack.
Great Concept, Slipping on Execution
Conceptually, PillPack provides a wonderful service in delivering medications in clearly labeled packets so you know when to take them. It’s also easy to realize when you’ve missed a dose, since each packet contains a specific date and time. The process of getting your prescriptions, adding OTC medications, and communicating with customer service, however, needs improvement. The number of public complaints online about incorrect medications, doses, and broken pills, while anecodotal, is also troubling. We’ve dropped service’s score since our last evaluation.
PillPack isn’t the only option when it comes getting your medicine delivered in this kind of convenient packaging. Although PCMag hasn’t not reviewed any of the similar alternatives yet, several exist. They may be worth exploring before you head to PillPack.