The price of prescription medication is part of the national conversation over health care costs. High-deductible health plans and the out-of-pocket expenses faced by patients also have attracted their fair share of attention.

Another important part of the conversation is what happens when the two trends meet. The convergence of rising drug prices and patients' rising financial obligations significantly increases the likelihood of medication non-adherence by patients, particularly those with chronic medical conditions.

We call it “primary fill abandonment.” This happens when a patient doesn't fill their first prescription for a new medication, which, according to research, occurs 32% of the time. The leading cause of primary fill abandonment is cost -- patients unable to afford their new medications or unwilling to pay the out of pocket costs associated with their new medications. Without some sort of immediate cost savings, patients are likely not to fill the medication that the physician prescribed. They may walk away from the pharmacy counter, seek an alternative medication that is less expensive or ask their doctor if they really need to be on the drug.

Financially motivated primary fill abandonment creates health and business challenges for those along the health care delivery continuum. The most important on that list, of course, are patients, whose health may suffer as a result. With this potential for negative health impact, patients are at risk for return trips to the doctor or even hospitalization, costing the health care system nearly $300 billion.

Patient Savings Programs Offer Cost Savings on Prescription Medications

Leveraging Patient Savings Programs to Reduce Prescription AbandonmentFortunately, there are a number of ways drug manufacturers and pharmacies can use patient savings programs to mitigate the risk of financially motivated primary fill abandonment and the negative consequences that come along with it. These programs can include free trial vouchers, discount co-pay cards and coupons for savings on specific drugs. Each of these tools is targeted at reducing or eliminating the financial barrier that leads to prescription abandonment.

Pharmacy-Based Savings Programs Build Patient-Pharmacist Relationship

Addressing financial barriers to adherence has often been a challenge for pharmacists as many patients do not know the amount of their out of pocket co-pay until that “moment of truth” at the counter. While physicians remain a primary source for patients to learn about medication savings programs, an increasing number of patients are seeking information from their pharmacist. Nearly three-quarters of patients indicated they would be more likely to fill their prescription if the pharmacist provided a medication savings card or coupon. We are encouraged that more pharmaceutical manufacturers are updating their patient savings programs by making offers available to patients through expanded channels, including pharmacists, to improve convenience and access to savings.

Ultimately, the patient fills his or her first prescription, which is a positive experience for the patient, but processing a savings offer is also an opportunity for the pharmacist to engage in a conversation about the patient's health. The pharmacist gains insight into other possible clinical and operational barriers to medication adherence like side effects or lack of transportation to the pharmacy. With close relationships with patients, the pharmacist is in a unique position to deliver personalized support to improve adherence and patient care in support of healthier outcomes. This may include a range of adherence tools and resources, including refill reminders, education, behavioral coaching and financial assistance.

Another important aspect of patient savings programs is the ability to connect with engaged patients, which enables manufacturers to gather insights into patients' adherence barriers and ongoing education and support needs that can be delivered direct, online or at the pharmacy. While this improves personalization of the message, this evolution of relationship marketing in health care is not just about pushing a brand message, but about creating greater patient engagement and opening the door for dynamic conversations designed to improve adherence and outcomes. This patient support helps to differentiate the brand within its marketplace, driving customer value and patient adherence.

Health Care Consumerism Changing How Patients Want Support

As the financial burden for health care continues to shift to patients, their expectations are changing, not only for how their care is delivered, but also how they receive support from physicians and pharmacists. Patients are less interested in general information about their condition and more interested in personalized communications in the mediums in which they engage - i.e. mobile and web-based - and support tools, such as pharmacy-based co-pay programs, missed prescription reminders, refill reminders and pharmacist coaching.

Patient savings programs are one tool to help alleviate the growing problem of financially motivated primary fill abandonment and an important first step in the journey to improved adherence and overall better health for patients.

Related: Learn about McKesson's Co-pay Discount Program.

Key Benefits of Patient Savings Programs
  1. Offers cost savings on prescription medications
  2. Mitigates prescription abandonment
  3. Increases medication adherence
  4. Builds relationship between patient and pharmacist
  5. Enables insights into patients' adherence barriers and ongoing support needs
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About the author

Reagan Tully is vice president of strategy and marketing for McKesson’s Patient Relationship Solutions, a business unit that serves over 9 million patients annually. She brings over 17 years of experience within the pharmaceutical industry in multiple therapeutic categories, including oncology, virology, vaccines, cardiovascular, respiratory and dermatology.  She has led sales, operations, marketing and commercial strategy for multiple top 10 manufacturers, including products from clinical development through end of lifecycle.

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