Studies show that the problems of prescription abandonment and non-adherence continue to rise. We look at the costs and how direct-to-patient channels can help.
Nearly two-thirds of Americans have a prescription for medication. Unfortunately, about half of them don’t take their medications as prescribed.
The problem of prescription abandonment and non-adherence is well known to those in the pharmaceutical industry, but their hard costs to the industry and the healthcare system at large often go overlooked.
The question is, why do so many Americans find it so difficult to fill and take their medications as prescribed? How much do prescription abandonment and non-adherence cost, when all is said and done? And is there a solution to the problem?
In what follows, we take a look at the answers to these questions and explore how direct-to-patient channels can improve prescription abandonment and adherence, leading to better outcomes for patients and increased sales for manufacturers.
The phenomenon of patients receiving prescriptions from their doctor but never filling them continues to rise. Studies have consistently shown that up to 30 percent of medication prescriptions are never filled by patients.
When it comes to patients with chronic, life-threatening conditions, abandonment is even worse. Research shows that nearly 37 percent of prescriptions written for chronic conditions go unfilled.
The costs of prescription non-adherence are staggering. They result in nearly $300 billion in avoidable health care costs and 125,000 potentially avoidable deaths. It’s a huge amount of unnecessary physical and emotional suffering, financial loss, and premature deaths.
While many factors contribute to these statistics, one of the leading reasons for prescription abandonment is the out-of-pocket cost of medications.
In a survey of 1,000 patients, fully 75 percent received a prescription that ended up costing more than they expected it would. Half of these patients ultimately decided not to fill the prescription because it cost too much when they arrived at the pharmacy.
The research shows that patients are more likely to abandon their prescriptions when cost sharing rises.
69 percent of patients who were commercially insured did not fill their prescriptions when they had to pay more than $250 out of pocket. By comparison, when their out-of-pocket costs were less than $30, only 11 percent of patients abandoned their prescriptions at the pharmacy.
Other analysis found that those patients who did abandon a prescription usually don’t go on to fill a prescription within three months, meaning they’re not opting for lower-cost medications, but simply failing to start their prescribed treatment altogether.
The problem doesn’t stop with patients abandoning prescriptions at the pharmacy. Those who do fill their prescriptions typically take only about half the prescribed doses—whether it’s for a simple infection or a life-threatening disease. Other non-adherence statistics include:
- Nearly 50 percent of patients with a prescription for a chronic condition like cardiovascular disease stop taking it within the first year.
- 1 in 5 Medicare patients are readmitted to the hospital within 30 days of being discharged, and half of these are due to non-adherence.
- Somewhere between 40 and 60 percent of mentally ill patients take their medication infrequently or not at all.
The research shows that improvement in non-adherence leads to measurable savings in healthcare costs. For every 10 percent improvement in medication adherence, healthcare costs are reduced by up to 29%. Another study showed that every 1 percent improvement in adherence can save about $50 in healthcare spending.
Patients with chronic conditions like hypertension or diabetes who took their medications as prescribed saved an average of between $4,000 and $8,000 per year on healthcare costs.
How Direct-to-Patient Can Help
As we’ve seen, prescription abandonment can largely be attributed to the cost of medication. Sticker shock is increasingly common for patients picking up their medications.
Compounding the problem is the rapidly increasing patient cost sharing for brand medications. Increased use of deductibles and coinsurance in the commercial market mean that patients are responsible for a higher percentage of the cost of treatment than in years past.
There are two ways the impact of cost on prescription abandonment can be mitigated. First is reducing the out-of-pocket costs themselves. Second is increasing pricing transparency for providers and patients at the prescribing stage of the process.
Direct-to-patient channels offer practical solutions to both of these approaches. By eliminating the byzantine complexity and inconvenience of legacy pharmacy channels, direct-to-patient offers ways to reduce the real costs of medications themselves.
And by allowing pharmaceutical manufacturers to set fixed, transparent costs of their brand drugs, direct-to-patient channels give providers and patients access to the true cost of medications at the point of prescription, without the unknown variables of deductibles and co-pays.
Fueled by the convenience of e-commerce, final-mile solutions, and home delivery, direct-to-patient channels eliminate the hassle and mitigate the cost of the traditional supply chain, addressing the problem of abandonment and adherence at its root.
Direct-to-patient offers patients the same prescriptions they used to get by way of a complex and inconvenient process through a branded customer experience meticulously designed for utmost convenience, efficiency, and speed.
Smart checkout technology and easy payment options are optimized for mobile, enabling patients to fill their prescriptions on the go, while custom packaging ensures patient delight the moment their medication arrives, fostering brand loyalty. Automated refills delivered directly to patients’ homes cut down on the current problem of refills going unfilled, while providing a recurring revenue stream for manufacturers.
Research has shown that 68 percent of physicians are interested in receiving notices if patients become non-adherent. The automated and anticipatory pharmacy technology that is central to a comprehensive direct-to-patient platform has the capability of doing just that, keeping doctors informed of patient behavior.
The convenience, efficiency, and transparency of direct-to-patient channels address many of the systemic problems within the traditional pharmacy process that lead to so many patients abandoning their prescriptions and/or not taking them as prescribed.
As more and more patients fill their prescriptions online, direct-to-patient has the potential to improve patient outcomes and measurably cut the significant costs of prescription abandonment and non-adherence to the pharmaceutical industry and the healthcare system at large.