“Drug stores” or “pharmacies” in the United States, small or large, serve several functions. These stores have departments or counters served by licensed pharmacists. The pharmacist is responsible for dispensing those drugs that require a doctor’s prescription. The pharmacy’s information system, commonly computerized, keeps track of refills, insurance reimbursements, and the printing of usage instructions and warnings for the medications. Pharmacists are not allowed to give medical advice, but many do give customers valuable information on how to use the drugs, or deal with possible side effects.
Drug stores also sell “over-the-counter” medications (which do not require a doctor’s prescription), and personal care products like soap, shaving cream, toothpaste, deodorants, hair-care products, makeup, and vitamins. Some drug stores are the size of supermarkets, with aisles selling stationery supplies, light bulbs, cat food, greeting cards, sodas, and many other products. Smaller drug stores sometimes specialize in upscale personal care products: exotic soaps, fragrances, or luxury hairbrushes. A small local pharmacy might do home delivery, an important consideration for senior citizens, while the chain pharmacy probably does not. On the other hand, some chain pharmacies offer convenient drive-through prescription services, as well as low prices. As in many other areas of American commerce, large chain drug stores have been driving smaller pharmacies out of business for quite some time.
Supermarkets, discount stores and warehouse clubs compete with drug stores by maintaining their own convenient pharmacy departments as well as aisles for over-the-counter and personal care products.
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