How to Get a Prescription Refill Without a Doctor?

By Craig Sorkin, DNP, APN
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October 14, 2022

You don’t always need to talk with a doctor to refill your prescription. If your prescription still has refills, you should be able to fill it as usual at your local pharmacy. However, if you’ve run out of refills, you may need to call your primary care provider and ask them to update your prescription.

Online doctors can also help. If it is the weekend and you can’t reach your primary care doctor or need to fill a prescription in a pinch, telemedicine providers offer 24/7 support and can authorize refills of most medications.

In this article, we’ll explore how to refill a prescription without a doctor, which medications are eligible, and what to do if you run out of refills. We’ll also address getting an emergency refill.

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How to Refill a Prescription

Usually, it’s relatively easy to refill a prescription. In some cases, you may need to get in touch with your doctor. However, you may also be able to refill with the help of your local pharmacy or a telemedicine provider. Let’s go over each step in detail.

Check the prescription label

First, check the label on your last bottle of medication. 

If you have refills left on your prescription, you should be able to pick up your medication as usual. However, if you don’t have any refills left, you may need to get in touch with your doctor or pharmacy.

Most people refill their prescriptions at a local pharmacy. You may need to choose a pharmacy that’s in-network for your health insurance. If you need to refill a prescription, you can call the pharmacy to ask them to fill it. Be prepared with your insurance card, prescription number, medication name, and dosage.

Contact your doctor if necessary

You may need to contact your doctor to get a refill, but it depends on what medication you need and where you live.

For example, in Arizona, you can get a refill without seeing a doctor. An executive order signed by Governor Ducey allows pharmacists to dispense 90-day supplies of certain medications without a trip to their doctor. 

Keep in mind, though, that prescription refill laws vary by state. If you don’t live somewhere that allows refills without a doctor’s visit, you’ll need to call your primary care physician. You may also be able to visit an urgent care clinic or make an appointment with a telehealth platform.

Coordinate with the pharmacy

It’s a good idea to contact your pharmacy before picking up a prescription. If you normally get your prescriptions filled at a local pharmacy, you may be able to register your phone number in order to receive text notifications when your refill is ready. You can also call them to check on the status of your refill.

If you get a prescription ordered through urgent care or a telehealth platform, you should call your pharmacy to make sure they’ve received the order. They can let you know if there are any issues with the prescription or your insurance. You can also ask them when it will be ready so you don’t waste a trip to the store.

Refilling a Prescription Without a Doctor

In some cases, you can refill a prescription without the help of a doctor. However, this depends on both the medication you need and your state. 

Running out of refills

Most prescriptions have a set number of refills, and after you reach this amount, you’ll need to get in touch with your doctor for additional refills. They may want to discuss how your medication is working for you and adjust the dosage, if necessary.

However, in some cases, you may be able to request additional refills without making an appointment. You can call your doctor’s office and ask to approve the refill over the phone. Some pharmacies can also do this for you. For instance, you can call your local pharmacy and ask them to contact your doctor to approve a refill.

When to Refill a Prescription

You should aim to refill your prescription before your current supply runs out. How early you’ll be able to refill depends on what medication you’re taking and your insurance coverage.

How early can you refill a prescription?

Typically, you can refill a prescription up to seven days early. Most insurance plans only cover a certain amount of pills over a set number of days. However, if you need to refill early for any reason—like going away on vacation—you can call your local pharmacy to ask if they’re able to refill ahead of time. In some cases, you may need to contact your healthcare provider to approve this.

What Prescriptions Cannot Be Refilled?

Certain medications cannot be refilled. While restrictions vary by state, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has federal laws preventing refills of narcotic medications. This means that Schedule II controlled substances are not eligible for prescription refills—instead, a healthcare provider needs to write you a new prescription each time you want to get it filled.

Some common examples of Schedule II drugs include:

  • Adderall
  • Ritalin
  • Dexedrine
  • OxyContin
  • Vicodin

According to a 2007 DEA regulation, providers can authorize 90-day prescriptions of Schedule II substances in some cases. They stipulate that each prescription must be written on a separate piece of paper, the medication must be for a legitimate medical purpose, and each prescription must list the earliest date that it can be filled. 

Refilling Prescriptions Without Insurance

You can purchase prescriptions without insurance, but it’s important to know that filling a prescription without insurance can be a lot more expensive than filling it with insurance. When you fill a prescription with insurance, your health plan typically covers some of the cost. However, if you don’t have insurance, you will be billed for the entire cost. 

If your prescription has refills left, you can refill it without insurance, but you will most likely be charged the full price of the prescription. You may need to do this if your insurance policy ends, you change jobs, or you want to refill before your insurance will allow you to. To determine the cost of your refill, you can call the pharmacy or visit in person and ask before purchasing.

If you are struggling to pay for your medication, contact your local pharmacy and ask if they can help. Pharmacies usually have manufacturer coupons that can provide discounts, and they can offer advice on how to save money on your medication. Some websites, such as GoodRX, also give discounts on certain prescription drugs.

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How to Get an Emergency Prescription Refill

Sometimes, you need to refill your prescription on short notice. This may happen because you’ve had a family emergency, need to travel suddenly, or live in an area where there is a natural disaster. The first step is to try and contact your primary care physician. You can then ask them to send your prescription to a pharmacy that is convenient for you.

However, sometimes it can be hard to reach a doctor. Many family doctors have standard 9-5, Monday-Friday hours, so if you lose your medication and need an emergency refill on Saturday morning, you may not be able to contact them. 

But don’t worry—many states have laws in place specifically for this purpose. They allow pharmacies to authorize emergency refills of life-saving medications, like insulin, if you can’t reach your doctor. So if you need an emergency refill and can’t reach your doctor, call your pharmacy or one nearby to see if they can help.

Getting a Prescription Refilled By an Online Doctor

If you can’t reach your doctor or don’t have time to go to an in-person appointment, using an online doctor is a great choice and is available using K Health. Digital appointments allow you to talk with a doctor whenever it works for you. They are usually available 24/7, and you can talk to a prescribing doctor or pharmacist from the comfort of your own home—saving you both time and money.

Then, you may be asked to fill out questions about yourself, your medication, any pre-existing health conditions, and more. An online doctor can then write you a prescription that they will send to a pharmacy that is local and convenient for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you refill a prescription that has no refills?
If you run out of refills on your prescription, you’ll need to call your doctor’s office or pharmacy to approve the medication.
Can I get prescription medication without seeing a doctor?
Yes, you can. If you don’t have the time or money to see a doctor in-person, you can use an online doctor who is able to prescribe your medication.
What to do if you run out of prescription medication?
If you run out of your medication, call your pharmacy right away and ask them if they can fill it for you as soon as possible. You may need to contact your doctor to approve a refill.
What can I do if my doctor refuses to refill a prescription?
Ask your doctor why they don’t want to fill your prescription. For example, are they wary of prescribing you more refills of a potentially addictive painkiller? Have a discussion about which medications are best for your long-term health, and if there’s something else they can prescribe instead.
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Craig Sorkin, DNP, APN

Craig Sorkin, DNP, APN is a board certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over 15 years experience. He received his Undergraduate and Graduate degrees from William Paterson University and his doctoral degree from Drexel University. He has spent his career working in the Emergency Room and Primary Care. The last 6 years of his career have been dedicated to the field of digital medicine. He has created departments geared towards this specialized practice as well as written blogs and a book about the topic.