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Talking About Drug Costs Can Improve Adherence

By Debra Shute  
   June 30, 2017

The bad news is that not enough patients talk with clinicians and pharmacists about the financial burden of their prescribed medications. The good news is that discussions that do occur often lead to more affordable prescriptions.

Nearly one-third (27%) of adults between the ages of 50 and 80 reported that that their prescription drug costs posed a financial burden, according to the University of Michigan’s new National Poll on Healthy Aging.

Other key findings from the online survey of 2,131 people, split almost equally between those aged 50 to 64, and those aged 65 to 80, include the following:

  • One-sixth of respondents reported taking six or more prescriptions and seeing more than one doctor. Patients with drug regimens of this complexity were more likely to say that medication costs were a problem.
  • Nearly half (49%) of those who said drug costs were problematic had not talked to their clinicians about the financial burden of their prescriptions.
  • Discussions about costs yielded positive results. Two-thirds (67%) of those who reported talking to their doctor about cost received a recommendation for a less expensive drug, while 37% got similar recommendations from pharmacists.

“Based on these findings, and other evidence, we encourage patients to speak up during their clinic visits, and when they’re at the pharmacy, and ask about ways to reduce the cost of their prescriptions,” said Preeti Malani, MD, director of the poll and a professor of internal medicine at the U-M Medical School. “But equally, we see a need for health professionals to find ways to more routinely engage with patients about cost—especially through formal medication reviews such as the one that Medicare will cover.”

Although financial toxicity is becoming a better-understood consequence of cancer care, it’s important for providers to remember that many older Americans take multiple medications for comorbid conditions and encourage discussion accordingly.

Separate research shows that cost often gets in the way of medication adherence, Malani noted, which can negatively affect outcomes and quality metrics reporting.

Debra Shute is the Senior Physicians Editor for HealthLeaders Media.


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