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When Money is Tight (Jul-04)

Because of the high cost of many prescription drugs, some people take fewer pills than prescribed. What are the health implications?

Imagine that four months ago, you started getting chest pains whenever you exerted yourself physically, and at the time you decided this was serious enough to see a doctor. After your doctor examined you and ran some tests, you were told that you have angina, a kind of heart disease. This disease can develop when the coronary arteries become narrow and clogged from high cholesterol and the heart can't get the oxygen that it needs. Your doctor helped you plan some lifestyle changes to treat your condition. You have been very devoted to the new way of life, eating healthier and doing the proper kinds of exercise regularly. Also, part of your treatment involves regularly taking the medication that your doctor prescribed for you. You were told to take one pill each day.

The trouble is your prescription drug insurance is limited and you find yourself having to pay the majority of the cost for the angina medication out of pocket. What's more, you have been struggling just to break even every month after accounting for all of your living expenses. Now you are worried about being able to afford the medication if you take it as regularly as prescribed. A pill a day may be doctor's orders, but it is getting costly for you.
 
Would you take the pill as often as prescribed or would you skip some days to try to save money?
 
  • I would take the pill every day as prescribed.
  • I would skip some days to save some money.

How do your answers compare?

You have to save money somehow, right? Perhaps you would just have to cut back on other expenses in your life, but apparently you felt the medication had to be taken as prescribed. Research has found, however, that especially among the elderly, a significant portion of the population reports restricting medications due to cost. An important question is whether this leads to adverse health outcomes. Policy debates have been largely divided on this issue.

Do those who restrict their medications due to cost experience adverse health outcomes?

A research team led by Dr. Michele Heisler and Dr. Kenneth Langa conducted a study to investigate this question. Prior to this study, no one had examined this question by studying the same individuals at different points in time to see if those who restricted medication due to cost were more likely to develop adverse health outcomes. The researchers obtained nationally representative data that was the result of nearly 8000 interviews. Each respondent was interviewed in 1995 or 1996 and then re-interviewed in 1998. At both times, individuals were asked about cost-related medication restriction and about their health. The health questions assessed overall health, angina and other cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, arthritis, and depression.

The researchers found that cost-related medication restriction was associated with almost twice the odds of experiencing a significant decline in overall health. The association between restricting medication due to cost and poor health outcomes was strongest for those who had cardiovascular disease. Of these individuals, those who restricted their medication had a 50% increased odds of suffering angina and a 51% increased odds of having a stroke. Aren't you glad on the previous page you said you wouldn't restrict your angina medication?

Those who had arthritis or diabetes and restricted their medication due to cost did not report worse disease-related outcomes at the second interview. For arthritis, this might have been because of equally effective over-the-counter pain medications, and for diabetes, higher rates of kidney disease would likely require a longer period of follow-up to detect. When looking at age as a factor, the results showed that older adults experienced significant declines in overall health, worse cardiovascular outcomes, and increased depression. The study showed that younger people who restrict are also at risk for a decline in their health.

One limitation of this study is the lack of data about how often individuals restricted medications. If an individual restricted only once or twice, it is not clinically plausible that this would have led to an adverse health outcome. Also, the data on health outcomes were self-reported, and thus subject to bias. Previous studies, however, have shown excellent agreement between medical records and self-reports for conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, and stroke.

Implications on policy

This study provides evidence that, contrary to some claims, adults with chronic illnesses who restrict medications due to cost experience adverse health outcomes. As drug costs continue to escalate and individuals continue to lack full prescription coverage from their health insurance, it will be increasingly important for healthcare systems and physicians to develop strategies to screen patients for cost-related underuse of medications and to provide assistance to these patients. Moreover, insurance companies will need to create benefit packages that provide appropriate coverage, taking into account the cost of prescription medications.

For more information see:

Michele Heisler, Kenneth M. Langa, Elizabeth L. Eby, A. Mark Fendrick, Mohammed U. Kabeto, John D. Piette. The Health Effects of Restricting Prescription Medication Use Because of Cost. Medical Care, 42(7). 2004.

A New Drug for the New Year (Jan-04)

Out with the old drugs and in with the new! How is your doctor prescribing for you?

Imagine that you are a physician and your patient is a 55-year-old white male with high blood pressure. He has no other medical problems, is on no medications, and has completed a 1-year program of diet and exercise to control his condition, but his blood pressure remains elevated at 170/105 (140/90 is the definition of high blood pressure).

As his physician, you have to decide on a medication to prescribe him in order to lower his blood pressure. You have the following options to choose from:

Diuretics: Diuretics are medications that lower blood pressure by getting rid of excess fluid in your body, making it easier for your heart to pump. They were first introduced in the 1950s.

Beta-blockers: Beta-blockers are medications that lower blood pressure by helping the heart to relax and pump more effectively, and by also reducing heart rate. They were first introduced in the 1960s.

ACE inhibitors: Angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors are medications that lower blood pressure by widening blood vessels and increasing blood flow. They were first introduced in 1981.

Calcium channel blockers: Calcium channel blockers are medications that lower blood pressure by relaxing blood vessels, reducing the heart's workload, and increasing the amount of blood and oxygen that reach the heart. They were also first introduced in 1981.
 
What type of medication would you prescribe this patient?
 
  • A diuretic
  • A beta-blocker
  • An ACE inhibitor
  • A calcium channel blocker

How do you compare to the physicians surveyed?

Of the physicians surveyed, 18% chose the same medication as you did. 38% chose an ACE inhibitor, 29% chose a beta-blocker, and 11% chose a calcium channel blocker. Most physicians chose an ACE inhibitor, a newer type of medication, rather than beta-blockers or diuretics, which are older types of medication.

Why is this important? When asked how they made their decision, the majority of physicians believed that diuretics were less effective and that beta-blockers were less likely to be tolerated by a patient's body than the other medications. However, a number of important studies have shown that beta-blockers and diuretics are as effective at lowering blood pressure as newer medications like ACE inhibitors and calcium channel blockers. Studies have also shown that beta-blockers and diuretics are equally or even better tolerated than the newer types of medications. Yet, the use of beta-blockers and diuretics has declined steadily in the past 15 years in favor of the newer and more expensive types of medications.

Why do physicians believe these things when the studies say otherwise?

The answer to this question is not fully known. One possibility is that physicians may be prescribing newer medications because these are the medications actively promoted by pharmaceutical companies. By providing free samples of the newer medications for physicians to give to patients, these companies may be influencing which medications physicians actually decide to prescribe. To test this possibility, after physicians had decided between diuretics, beta-blockers, ACE inhibitors, and calcium channel blockers, they were asked if they ever provide their patients with free medication samples from these companies to treat their high blood pressure. It was found that physicians who used free samples were more likely to believe that ACE inhibitors are more effective. This isn't proof that physicians are influenced by pharmaceutical companies when prescribing medication for high blood pressure, but it does urge us to seriously consider if physicians may need to be re-educated about the effectiveness and tolerability of beta-blockers and diuretics.

For more information see:

Ubel, PA, Jepson, C, Asch, DA. Misperceptions about beta-blockers and diuretics. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 18, 977-983. 2003.

 

Geoffrey Barnes has been selected as one of 12 IHPI junior faculty members to serve on the Junior Faculty Advisory Council (JFAC) to advocate for junior faculty professional development programs and activities within IHPI, and to provide perspective and feedback on issues and opportunities identified and brought to the JFAC by the Institute Leadership Team.

Sun, November 14, 2010

Raymond De Vries, Professor in the Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine and the Departments of Medical Education and Obstetrics and Gynecology, authored a commentary in a Dutch national newspaper examining media misrepresentation of a recent article in the British Medical Journal about perinatal death in the Netherlands.  Dr. De Vries and colleague Lisa Kane Low, Director of Midwifery Education, will present at a conference, Knowledge in Business, sponsored by the Zuyd University in Maastricht.

Along with Ted A. Skolarus, M.D., M.P.H., CBSSM Co-Director, Angela Fagerlin authored a Viewpoint article titled "Rethinking Patient-Physician Communication of Biopsy Results -- The Waiting Game." In the article, they conclude, "Telemedicine approaches can potentially relieve much of the anxiety associated with in-person consultations while delivering bad news in a timely, compassionate, and patient-centered manner."

Lisa Szymecko, JD, PhD

Alumni

Lisa Szymecko joined CBSSM in May 2012 as a Research Area Specialist Intermediate, working as the study coordinator for Susan Goold on the DECIDERS and PCORI projects.


Lisa earned her Bachelors of Science degree in Chemical Engineering from Michigan Technological University, her Juris Doctorate from Detroit College of Law, and her PhD in Resource Development from Michigan State University.

Last Name: 
Syzmecko
Fri, October 27, 2017

An older Behavioral Economics study by Brian Zikmund-Fisher and Andrew Parker was recently highlighted in a Nerdwallet Blog about the continued demand for rent-to-own contracts.

Research Topics: 
Mon, March 19, 2018

The new American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) guideline for treating breast cancer patients with whole breast irradiation recommends that most patients receive an accelerated treatment, known as hypofractioned therapy, instead of the conventional one. Reshma Jagsi is co-chair of task force that compiled the guideline.

Funded by: NIH

Funding Years: 2016-2021

 

There is a fundamental gap in understanding how Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) influences treatment and Decision Making for serious illnesses, like Cardiovascular disease (CVD), in older patients. Poor understanding of Clinical Decision Making is a critical barrier to the design of interventions to improve the quality and outcomes of CVD care of in older patients with MCI. The long-term goal of this research is to develop, test, and disseminate interventions aimed to improve the quality and outcomes of CVD care and to reduce CVD-related disability in older Americans with MCI. The objective of this application is to determine the extent to which people with MCI are receiving sub-standard care for the two most common CVD events, Acute myocardial infarction (AMI) and acute ischemic stroke, increasing the chance of mortality and morbidity in a population with otherwise good quality of life, and to determine how MCI influences patient preferences and physician recommendations for treatment. AMI and acute ischemic stroke are excellent models of serious, acute illnesses with a wide range of effective therapies for acute management, Rehabilitation, and secondary prevention. Our central hypothesis is that older Adults with MCI are undertreated for CVD because patients and physicians overestimate their risk of dementia and underestimate their risk of CVD. This hypothesis has been formulated on the basis of preliminary data from the applicants' pilot research. The rationale for the proposed research is that understanding how patient preferences and physician recommendations contribute to underuse of CVD treatments in patients with MCI has the potential to translate into targeted interventions aimed to improve the quality and outcomes of care, resulting in new and innovative approaches to the treatment of CVD and other serious, acute illnesses in Adults with MCI. Guided by strong preliminary data, this hypothesis will be tested by pursuing two specific aims: 1) Compare AMI and stroke treatments between MCI patients and cognitively normal patients and explore differences in Clinical outcomes associated with treatment differences; and 2) Determine the influence of MCI on patient and surrogate preferences and physician recommendations for AMI and stroke treatment. Under the first aim, a health services research approach- shown to be feasible in the applicants' hands-will be used to quantify the extent and outcomes of treatment differences for AMI and acute ischemic stroke in older patients with MCI. Under the second aim, a multi-center, mixed-methods approach and a national physician survey, which also has been proven as feasible in the applicants' hands, will be used to determine the influence of MCI on patient preferences and physician recommendations for AMI and stroke treatment. This research proposal is innovative because it represents a new and substantially different way of addressing the important public health problem of enhancing the health of older Adults by determining the extent and causes of underuse of effective CVD treatments in those with MCI. The proposed research is significant because it is expected to vertically advance and expand understanding of how MCI influences treatment and Decision Making for AMI and ischemic stroke in older patients. Ultimately, such knowledge has the potential to inform the development of targeted interventions that will help to improve the quality and outcomes of CVD care and to reduce CVD-related disability in older Americans.

PI: Deborah Levine

CO(s): Darin Zahuranec, MD & Ken Lenga, MD. PhD.

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