Achieving Compliance in Tough Times

In our current blog post, we discuss how the current economic downturn has increased generic drug purchases both domestically and overseas.  In addition to doctors and hospitals receiving increased requests for generic meds, many are seeing another side effect of the economic downturn:  decreased patient compliance in populations that can no longer afford care.

When forced to choose between food, rent, or heat versus filing prescriptions and paying for doctor appointments, the prior takes precedence over the latter.  Compliance in general is tough to achieve.  Factors beyond economics, time for instance, weigh on the decision to follow-up medical care.  Add a decreased ability to afford co-pays and deductibles plus the perception that medicine and doctor visits are not “essential” and noncompliance in a bad economy becomes rampant.

Patient communication needs to emphasize that noncompliance can cost them more in the long run.  Patients often underestimate the importance of following their doctor’s care instructions.  Missing visits or not taking their meds may save them a co-pay or two, but if it lands them back in the hospital, the savings is moot.

Doctors need to discuss the benefit of healthcare maintenance while educating their patients about their condition and medications they are taking.  They need to understand how much letting their care lapse can truly cost them.  This also applies to Medicare patients who are likely going to reach their “donut hole” and have to pay prescriptions out of pocket.  It would be helpful at the beginning of the year to help them identify more affordable medications or alternative treatments in order to prevent a lapse in care from happening due to economics.

This becomes especially important in patient populations that do not speak English or come from other cultures.  Some cultures view doctors suspiciously or see going to the doctor as a sign of weakness and are at high risk for noncompliance.  Non-English speaking Medicare patients may not understand they can request generic prescriptions from their physician, or that using more expensive brand-name drugs can make their benefits run dry quickly.

Whether through direct costs to patients, or indirect cost to us all through increased insurance costs, noncompliance can be expensive.  Ensuring all patients, regardless of language or culture, understand the importance of maintaining their health can help to contain these costs and save money during times when money is hard to come by.

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