A $1.70 solution found to greatly increase prescription pickups

For a low cost, automated reminders are successful at prompting patients to get their medications filled.

By — Posted Dec. 7, 2012

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Adults who receive automated phone and mail reminders to pick up their medicine from the pharmacy are more likely to fill statin prescriptions than those who don’t receive a prompt, said a study published online Nov. 26 in Archives of Internal Medicine.

It’s common for people to leave prescriptions sitting at the pharmacy, data show. Thirty-one percent of U.S. adults say at least once they have not filled a prescription given to them, said the National Community Pharmacists Assn.

Contributing to the problem is the high cost of some medications and patient concerns about side effects, health professionals say.

Implementing an automated intervention is inexpensive, with phone calls and mailings costing about $1.70 a person, the study said. But some medical practices will not be able to conduct this type of outreach due to a lack of access to necessary data showing how many prescriptions were dispensed to patients by pharmacists, said study co-author T. Craig Cheetham, PharmD.

In those instances, physicians still can increase the number of people who pick up their medication by educating them during office visits on the benefits of newly prescribed drugs, said Cheetham, a researcher in the Pharmacy Analytical Services Dept. for Kaiser Permanente Southern California. He also recommends doctors tell patients, “If you go home and read about side effects and get concerns, call [the office] and we can talk about it.”

Researchers identified 5,216 Kaiser Permanente Southern California patients 24 and older who were prescribed a statin for the first time between April and June 2010 but did not pick up the medication within two weeks. The patients randomly were placed into either an intervention group (2,606 patients) or a control group (2,610).

Intervention patients received an automated phone call reminding them to pick up their medication and take it as prescribed. “Taking your cholesterol medication helps keep your arteries open and lowers your chance of having a heart attack, stroke or other serious health problems,” the call said.

One week after the call, researchers sent a reminder letter to patients who still had not filled their prescriptions. People in the control group did not receive such outreach. Reminders were offered in English and Spanish.

Researchers found 42.3% of intervention patients picked up their medication from the pharmacy 32 to 39 days after it was prescribed. Only 26% of those in the control group got their prescription during the same period (link).

People who spoke Spanish and those with prescription coverage were more likely to get their medication within two weeks than were other patients. Most study participants had a co-pay of $5 to $10.

“This automated intervention is a good way to very efficiently reach a large number of people and improve their health outcomes,” said lead study author Stephen F. Derose, MD, a researcher with the Kaiser Permanente Southern California Dept. of Research and Evaluation.

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