The medical industry is keenly aware that being adherent to a prescription regimen will help to manage diseases and sometimes even cure a patient of his disease. Its also been known that patients aren’t particularly good at taking their meds as directed.

For the past few years there have been studies on the adherence of patients and why they are or are not adherent.  Only about half of the patients who have a prescription take their meds after the first month. Most of the studies that I’ve seen attribute the almost 50% drop-off to the cost of the meds. There is a new study, sponsored by the Aetena Insurance company, that has stunned the medical community, especially doctors. The findings were presented at the American Heart Association conference in Orlando, Florida in early November, 2011. The New England Journal of Medicine published the results on-line.

In such studies there are typically two groups, one, which is called the “control group.” This study set out to see how levels of adherence would improve if cost were taken out of the equation for patients who have experienced a recent heart attack. Patients in the control group were given their medications using the cost structure that the patients are used to, including the insurance co-pay. Many of the rest were given their medications for free, just to see how much that would influence the adherence level.

The results were disheartening to the authors of the study as they found that the “free meds” patients were only 4 to 6 percent more adherent than the control group. They were hoping to boost the rate quite a bit.

The good news is that health care costs actually dropped by 26% for the patients that took their meds as prescribed in the “free meds” group.  This is attributed to fewer necessary doctor visits, less necessary lab testing and fewer necessary hospitalizations.  Insurance company costs also went down for this group of cardiac patients, to an annual total of a little more than $64K. The control group cost the insurance companies about $70K.
Many of us just can’t remember to take our meds if left to our own memory. For those of us that take multiple meds each day, we often get a little confused. We need to be reminded to take our meds.

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