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  • Cutting Drug Costs and Improving Adherence with Pharmacy Discount Cards

    High drug costs directly influence poor medication adherence, resulting in morbidity, mortality, and increased overall healthcare costs. Even minor changes to drug costs have been shown to impact adherence. While this is a complex topic, there are some simple things that prescribers can do to help lower drug costs, including encouraging the use of pharmacy discount cards.

    Poor medication adherence refers to patients not complying with the complete treatment recommendations from healthcare providers. This includes the 25% of prescriptions that are never filled, as well as the approximately 50% of chronic medications not taken. Adherence is generally lower among patients with chronic conditions, as compared to those with acute conditions. The length of time a patient with a chronic illness continues to take a prescribed drug, also referred to as medication persistence, also tends to be quite low.1 When there is an issue with obtaining and using medication appropriately, the drug’s effectiveness can be limited, which can result in an increased need for both outpatient care and hospitalizations.2 Figures of up to $100 billion each year in excess hospitalizations have been estimated to result from nonadherence. Also unsettling are reports that unfilled prescriptions annually lead to 125,000 needless deaths.3

    Though behavior-related factors do have a strong influence on adherence (such as access issues, patient forgetfulness or misunderstanding), out-of-pocket drug costs are an independent barrier to achieving appropriate adherence.1,2 Stakeholders in the healthcare system should have awareness of the relationship between the level of a patient’s out-of-pocket costs and the degree of their medication adherence. Important to note is that raising copayments and relatively high out-of-pocket costs are associated with decreased medication adherence. Conversely, the reduction of copayments has been shown to improve medication adherence.2 This actuality lends itself to opportunities where savings related to prescription medications can be extended to patients. Patient loyalty card programs that provide real-time, point-of-sale, pharmaceutical-sponsored drug discounts can help in this regard, particularly for un- or underinsured patients. Even without prescription drug insurance, a discount card can make meaningful drug cost savings available to patients. Oftentimes the discounted drug cost is even less than the usual copay amount an insured patient would owe.3

    There are several discount card programs available to your practice and patients. PDR Network® has vetted and now provides a PDR-branded discount card for use with your patients. The card is free to prescribers and free for patients to use. Prescribers need only complete a quick enrollment into the program (for instructions, visit us on the web or call toll-free, using the contact info listed below). PDR provides you with all the materials needed (available in English and Spanish) to offer this discount card to your patients. To participate, the patient only needs to take the card and any prescription they receive to any of the 60,000 pharmacies across the U.S., Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and give them both to the pharmacist. The PDR card delivers discounts of up to 75% (and an average of 38%) on more than 50,000 prescription drugs for patients. In the past year, the PDR card program provided by prescribers to their patients has saved patients nearly $4 million on their medications. Savings of this magnitude can go a long way in overcoming cost-related barriers to adherence.

    For more information on the PDR Pharmacy Discount Card program, visit www.PDR.net/PhysicianPDC or call 1-800-232-7379.

    Salvatore Volpe, MD, FAAP, FACP, CHCQM
    Chief Medical Officer
    PDR Network


    1. Research Brief: Improving Patient Medication Adherence for Chronic Disease. New England Healthcare Institute. 2009. http://www.nehi.net/publications/17-thinking-outside-the-pillbox-a-system-wide-approach-to-improving-patient-medication-adherence-for-chronic-disease/view. Accessed May 1, 2014.
    2. Braithwaite S, Shirkhorshidian I, Jones K, Johnsrud M. The Role of Medication Adherence in the U.S. Healthcare System. 2013.
    3. Holbrook K. Loyalty Card Programs Can Promote Adherence. Product Management Today. September 2006:42-43.