Acute or maintenance medications: What’s the difference?

A man holds a prescription bottle for a maintenance medication while looking at the medication in his other hand.

At Express Scripts® Pharmacy, we deliver a better and simpler pharmacy experience. Our pharmacists are trained in and focused on specific conditions to provide personalized care critical for your long-term health. And we’re here to answer your questions 24/7, including about the types of prescriptions we can and cannot fill.

We are happy to help you get 90-day supplies of maintenance medications (sometimes called “long-term,” “chronic” or “daily” medications) delivered right to your door. For acute medications, it’s best to go to a local retail pharmacy right away.

If you’re unsure what the difference is between acute and maintenance medications, or maybe you’re wondering which category your prescription falls into, refer to the at-a-glance information below.

At a glance: Acute vs. maintenance medications

What is an acute medication?

  • Prescribed for a short-term illness or condition expected to clear up in a short amount of time
  • Typically needs to be filled the same day to start feeling better
  • Usually not taken for longer than 30 days
  • Often no refills included as part of the prescription
  • Almost always filled at retail, hospital, or outpatient clinic pharmacies
  • Examples include antibiotics, antivirals, post-surgery medications, pain medications for injuries expected to heal (such as a broken bone or burn)

What is a maintenance medication?

  • Prescribed for a more chronic or ongoing condition
  • Might be needed for months, years, or even a lifetime; often available in 90-day supplies
  • Usually has many refills included as part of the prescription
  • Can be filled at most pharmacies, but most convenient at home delivery pharmacies like Express Scripts® Pharmacy
  • Examples include medications for high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis, and contraceptives (among many others)

It’s important to note that some medications that are typically considered acute — such as antibiotics and pain medications — can sometimes be given for long-term conditions. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you’re not sure why you were prescribed a medication and for how long you should take it.

Choosing the right pharmacy for you

Since maintenance medications tend to be for the long term, it’s important to choose a pharmacy that sets you up for the best long-term experience. Learn more about how Express Scripts® Pharmacy is delivering a better, simpler pharmacy experience.

If you ever have a question about whether we can fill a specific prescription, one of our patient care advocates would be happy to help, 24/7. Call us at 800.282.2881.

Posted date: August 25, 2022

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