What’s a Formulary?

Published: April 16, 2021
Revised: January 29, 2021
Han Feng
By Han Feng, PharmD, PGY2 medication safety resident, Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore

Have you ever been hospitalized and discovered that your hospital doesn’t stock the specific name-brand medication you take at home? That’s because most hospitals don’t have the space or the financial ability to stock all FDA-approved medications.

So, we use what’s called a “formulary,” a list of medications that are readily available in the hospital. Your doctor will select a drug from the formulary for you to receive in the hospital that is similar to the medication you are taking at home.

For example, you may know about the cholesterol-lowering medications known as “statins” (brand names include Zocor®, Lipitor®, Mevacor®, Crestor®, Pravachol®, and Lescol®). Your hospital may choose to keep just one or two of these on the formulary and in stock.

Formularies cover all the categories of medications that patients need. The list is constantly being revised and updated to make sure patients receive the appropriate medication. For example, before a medication is added to or deleted from the formulary, teams of pharmacists, physicians, and other healthcare professionals in the hospital evaluate the drug products to make sure that they are safe, work well, and are cost-effective.

As newer medications become available, formulary teams compare them to similar medications and decide if they should add them and/or remove similar medications. This is just one more way that pharmacists work to ensure that you receive the best medication for your treatment.

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