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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.

 

Bioethics Grand Rounds: Musical Event "When Death Comes Callin"

Wed, October 26, 2016, 12:00pm
Location: 
UH Ford Amphitheater & Lobby

When Death Comes Callin': Songs and Reflections About Death

Charlotte DeVries, Jeanne Mackey, Merilynne Rush, and friends offer a program of songs and brief readings reflecting various perspectives on death - humorous, sad, thoughtful, and quirky.

Lunch is provided on a first-come, first-served basis.

Thu, May 04, 2017

Cancer Therapy Advisor asked Scott Roberts about the PGen Study and the implications for Direct-to-Consumer cancer risk testing in the future. Check out the Q&A session in the link below.

Lewis Morgenstern, MD

Thu, December 20, 2007

A CBSSM study found that colostomy patients who felt that their condition was irreversible reported better quality of life than those who hoped that they would be cured. For a summary, see this press release and video. The researchers are Dylan M. Smith, PhD; Peter A. Ubel, MD; Aleksandra Jankovic, MS (all at the University of Michigan); and George Loewenstein, PhD, (of Carnegie Mellon University). Health Psychology will publish the article in mid-November 2009.

Press coverage of this research has been extensive. Peter Bregman reported on the study in the July 2009 Business Week Online, applying the concepts to help people manage their stressful and unpredictable lives. Read his full article here. Preliminary data from this study were cited in the 7th Annual “Year in Ideas” issue of the New York Times Magazine in December 2007. Read recent international media coverage:
US News and World Report Health Day
Voice of America Radio
Daily Mail UK
Reuters India

The 2012 CBSSM Research Colloquium took place on Thursday, May 10, and was attended by over 130 people.  This year's colloquium focused on research around medical decision making, and featured presentations by numerous faculty, fellows, and students.  In addition, the CBSSM Research Colloquium featured the annual Bishop Lecture in Bioethics as its keynote address.  Drs. Jerome Groopman and Pamela Hartzband of Harvard Medical School jointly presented the Bishop Lecture with a talk entitled, "When Experts Disagree: The Art of Medical Decision Making."  For more information about the event and to view photos and a video of the Bishop Lecture, click here.

Interactive Decision

At CBSSM, we perform the basic and applied scientific research that will improve health care policy and practice to benefit patients and their families, health care providers, third-party payers, policy makers, and the general public.  In our "Interactive Decision" web feature, we turn a recent research finding into an interactive decision that a patient or policy maker might face.  Read, decide, click—and see how your answers compare with our respondents.

Impact of the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System on Vaccine Acceptance and Trust (Aug-17)

Patient understanding of blood test results (Feb-17)

Attitudes toward Return of Secondary Results in Genomic Sequencing (Sep-16)

Moral concerns and the willingness to donate to a research biobank (Jun-16)

Liver Transplant Organ Quality Decision Aid: Would you consider a less than perfect liver? (Jan-16)

Blocks, Ovals, or People Icons in Icon Array Risk Graphics? (Sept-15)

Getting ahead of illness: using metaphors to influence medical decision making (May-15)

 

 

Beth Tarini and Scott Roberts spoke at the Michigan State Medical Society’s 17th Annual Conference on Bioethics, "Putting the Me in Medicine: The Ethics of Personalized Medical Care"

For more information on the conference, you can visit its website here.

Beth Tarini and Scott Roberts spoke at the Michigan State Medical Society’s 17th Annual Conference on Bioethics, "Putting the Me in Medicine: The Ethics of Personalized Medical Care" The conference examined moral and ethical issues which face physicians and other health care professionals daily.  

For more information on the conference, you can visit its website here.

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