Manatee County, Florida, is getting a handle on its employees' prescription drug costs by putting in a retail pharmacy at the county administrative offices.

The on-site pharmacy, which has been running for more than a year, not only makes it easy for employees to fill prescriptions, it also offers the face-to-face services of a clinical pharmacist. The pharmacist vets employees' individual prescriptions for conflicting medications, pushes low-cost generic brands when appropriate and encourages patients to take their drugs as directed.

The on-site solution appears to be lowering Manatee County's prescription drug costs. According to Bob Goodman, the county's health benefits manager, use of generic drugs has gone up by 6 percent and the use of drugs from an approved formulary has gone up by 7 percent. County costs have declined by $3.16 per prescription since the program started in January 2005. "We're not only reducing our pharmacy costs," Goodman says, noting that the on-site facility also employs four nurses, "we're also improving quality of care."

Although not many governments have gone the in-house pharmacy route, a growing number of companies, including Toyota and Eastman Chemical, have set up workplace pharmacies in recent years. If the trend in drug management has been toward bulk-buying and filling prescriptions by mail-order, these programs aim to bring back something of a personal touch. "Most chain pharmacies today are really pill counters," Goodman says. "We believe in a people-to-people program, rather than these telephonic things where you end up on the phone with someone in India."