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Compliance with Diabetes Medications Can Save Money


Noncompliance is one of the biggest issues in healthcare today, says Katherine Binns, former president of healthcare research at Harris Interactive a large market research firm. Staying on a medication for a long period of time takes a lot of work, but in the end, the effort is worth it both for health and economic reasons. A recent study published in the journal Health Services Research finds that diabetic patients who are compliant with medications have slightly lower healthcare costs.

Compliance with Cholesterol and Blood Pressure Medications Can Save Over $1000 in Three Years

“There is literature out there that suggests that you could cut the total health spending by a third or more if you just made people more adherent with the drugs that they should be taking,” said lead investigator Bruce Stuart, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy in Baltimore.

A 2005 report by Harris Interactive found that roughly half of all prescriptions for drugs to be taken on an ongoing basis are either not completed or are never filled in the first place. According to Anne Burns, group director of practice development with the American Pharmacists Association (AphA), drugs for high cholesterol and high blood pressure are among those for which patients are least compliant.

Read: Why Stroke Patients Stop Taking Medications

Stuart and colleagues followed about 4,000 Medicare patients who had a diagnosis of diabetes. Patients were asked to track their pill counts and estimated spending costs were derived from Medicare data.

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Patients who were taking statin drugs to control cholesterol levels could realize $832 in savings over three years if they increased their medication adherence by just 10%. This is equivalent to take three more pills a month if a patient were prescribed one a day for 30 days.

Patients who are compliant with ACE-inhibitors, a class of drugs for the treatment of high blood pressure, would save $285 through lower Medicare costs over the same three-year period.

Read: Standardized Prescription Labeling Could Save Lives

The leading reasons for medication noncompliance are forgetfulness, disbelief that the drug is necessary, fear of side effects or experiencing actual side effects, confusion over instructions, and a desire to save money.

“I think a general statement can be made that the more compliant one is, the better their quality of life, the lower their complication rate and probably a greater longevity,” said Robert Henry, president of medicine and science for the American Diabetes Association, in response to the study findings.

Journal Reference: Stuart B, et al. Does medication adherence lower Medicare spending among beneficiaries with diabetes? Health Services Research online 2011. The Health Behavior News Service is part of the Center for Advancing Health.