Real World Health Care Blog

Tag Archives: prescriptions

Most Americans Say They Can Afford Drugs but the Sick Still Struggle

According to an August Kaiser Health Tracking Poll, it appears that most Americans (72%) can afford their prescription drugs. However, one in four Americans surveyed indicate difficulties, including more than four in ten people who are sick. Others facing difficulties paying for their prescription drugs include those with low incomes (33%) or those taking four or more prescription drugs (38%).

KFFPollAmong those with insurance, prescription drug costs rank among a number of other health expenses, with 11 percent saying their prescription drug costs is their most burdensome health care cost, while 17 percent say it is the deductible, 14 percent say it’s their health insurance premiums, and 44 percent say that paying for health care and health insurance is not a financial burden. For those with lower incomes, paying for prescription drugs tops the list, with 17 percent reporting it is their greatest financial burden when it comes to health care costs.

Most of Americans (62%) surveyed in the poll say that prescription drugs developed in the past 20 years have made lives of people in the U.S. much better, including 42 percent who say a lot better. Do you agree? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.

Categories: Cost-Savings, General

More Patients DASH to New Solution to Reduce High Blood Pressure: Part I

Shawn_J_Green

Shawn J. Green

What’s the solution to reversing the tide of hypertension, the most commonly diagnosed condition in the United States?  More evidence indicates that the answer begins with the food choices we make every day.

An underlying cause of heart attacks, strokes and kidney disease, one in three American adults now experiences high blood pressure – the single-largest contributor to death worldwide. It is also becoming more resistant to the pharmaceutical drugs used to lower it. In fact, blood pressure remains elevated in nearly one-third of all treated hypertensive patients on pharmaceutical drugs.

Instead of relying on prescriptions, more patients are turning to a healthier eating approach: Keeping sodium intake low and making consumption of nitric oxide-rich vegetables and leafy greens high. This cardio-protective daily diet, known as the DASH (Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension) Eating Plan, is emerging as an effective way to delay or prevent high blood pressure altogether.

The value of nitric oxide was spotlighted when the Nobel Prize was awarded in 1998 for discovery of this naturally produced cardio-protective factor. A string of clinical studies underscored that vegetables (like red beet roots) and leafy greens (such as spinach and arugula) are replete with nitric oxide.

Diets known for promoting heart health and lowering rates of diabetes and obesity – like Japanese diets, Mediterranean diets and plant-based diets, such as DASH, among others including TLC, Ornish, and Pritikin – incorporate these natural whole foods. The need to consume more nitric oxide-potent vegetables and leafy greens becomes even more critical as we age because our bodies are less able to synthesize this natural hypertensive-fighting factor.

Reducing hypertension would not only improve health outcomes for individual patients, but would also benefit the health system as a whole. Although the percentage of resistance to antihypertensive drugs is relatively lower in the U.S., elevated blood pressure among a rapidly growing number of baby boomers will mean more challenges for health care in the long run unless we identify tools that work and make them as accessible and user-friendly to the public as possible.

DASH holds great promise to fuel compliance – a critical driver to prevent elevated blood pressure – among those living with hypertension. But a healthful eating strategy alone will not mean better outcomes for patients without a model to help them break bad habits and support dietary changes on a personal level, one day at a time.

So how do we get there?

Join us here next Thursday for the second post in our two-part series. Discover what innovative tools can empower patients to make the DASH Diet a part of their arsenal in the fight against hypertension.

Are Shorter Doctor’s Office Wait Times Just a Phone Call Away?

Nobody likes to wait, especially at the doctor’s office. No one knows for sure what will happen to wait times, which average from about 16 minutes to just over 24 minutes nationwide according to Vitals – as 30 million more Americans obtain health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act. But it stands to reason that wait times could increase. Couple that with the looming shortage of primary care physicians, and time spent in doctors’ waiting rooms may become an even more precious commodity.

Linda Barlow

Linda Barlow

Patients who lack, well, the patience to wait may have a solution – one that is showing great promise to eliminate doctor visit copays and is available even to those without medical insurance. The free Urgent Care app from GreatCall Inc. is designed to give people 24/7 access to health care information anytime, anywhere. Launched in January, the GreatCall app rose to the top of the Google Play and App Store medical categories by mid-May.

Urgent Care is the only app that provides users with round-the-clock access – for a price of $3.99 per call – to a live, registered nurse with LiveCare Clinic who can escalate inquiries to a board-certified doctor for health-related advice, diagnosis and even prescriptions without an appointment. It also provides a medical dictionary and medical symptom checker tool.

Urgent Care empowers patients to make choices about how and where they receive medical consultation. For example, many access the app’s Interactive Symptom Checker feature to pinpoint various symptoms of common ailments they might initially find uncomfortable to discuss in person. The app also helps identify:

  • Possible causes of symptoms
  • When to self-treat
  • When to contact a medical professional

“With the costs of medical care rising, people are looking for other options to get access to quality health care,” said Aaron Amerling, Manager of Mobile Apps at GreatCall. “Urgent Care fills a very real need by giving anyone access to medical resources, as well as the ability to quickly connect to a nurse or doctor for less than the cost of a typical Starbucks beverage.”

Amerling notes that Urgent Care is being used by a wide range of people – from those seeking a Spanish-speaking nurse or doctor to those who have health insurance and are frustrated by sitting on-hold or waiting long periods for returned calls from their health care providers.

When asked whether apps like this undermine the authority of health care providers by placing too much control in the hands of patients, Amerling said, “When people have the ability to look up ailments online, they may find a myriad of potential causes and are unable to self-diagnose safely. That’s why we made the ability to access registered nurses and board-certified physicians for expert opinions an important component of Urgent Care.”

According to Amerling, the app has been so successful that the company is looking to add even more resources for patients, including:

  • Access to health news and videos
  • Drug information forums
  • Expanded medical libraries
  • A Spanish-language version of the app

Have you ever used Urgent Care or another app to obtain medical advice? If yes, how did you feel about the quality of care you received? If not, do you think you would ever use an app like this?

Categories: Access to Care

Telehealth Opens Doors to Enhance Health Outcomes and Reduce Costs

Telehealth solutions are making significant inroads to reverse high health care expenditures and reduce noncompliance with prescription therapies – issues that especially impact those living with chronic disease.

By engaging patients in health education through classes, patient portals, real-time patient-provider consultations, online discussion forums and more, telehealth strategies empower providers to monitor disease progression and intervene with patients at an earlier stage, when conditions may be more easily treated.

A digital conduit that delivers medical care, health education, and public health services, telehealth connects multiple users in separate locations. Telehealth services consist of diagnosis, treatment, assessment, monitoring, communications and education. It includes a broad range of telecommunications, health information, videoconferencing, and digital image technologies.

And what’s best of all? Telehealth is working in many situations. Here are a few examples:

Case Study #1: Telehealth plays an instrumental role in supporting the care of veteran patients with chronic conditions. They are part of a national program from the US Veterans Health Administration to coordinate the care of veterans with chronic conditions at home and avoid unnecessary admission to long-term institutional care. The program included the systematic implementation of health informatics, home telehealth, and disease management technologies for six conditions including diabetes mellitus, congestive heart failure, hypertension, posttraumatic stress disorder, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and depression.

Patients involved in the program benefitted from a 25 percent reduction in the number of bed days of care and a 20 percent reduction in hospital readmissions. According to a study of the program, the basis for reduced utilization of health care resources for the patients involved was due to the program’s foundation in patient self-management, disease management and the use of virtual visits.

Case Study #2: At Partners HealthCare in Boston, a home telehealth program focusing on cardiac care resulted in a 50 percent reduction in heart failure hospital readmissions, for a total cost savings of more than $10 million since 2006. The Connected Cardiac Care Program is a centralized telemonitoring and self-management and preventive care program for heart failure patients that combines telemonitoring with nurse intervention and care coordination, coaching and education. The daily transmission of weight, heart rate, pulse and blood pressure data by patients enables providers to more effectively assess patient status and provide just-in-time care and patient education.

Patients in the program use equipment – a home monitoring device with peripherals to collect weight, blood pressure, and heat rate measurements, and a touch-screen computer to answer questions about symptoms – on a daily basis for four months. Telemonitoring nurses monitor these vitals, respond to out-of-parameter alerts, and guide patients through structured biweekly heart failure education.

Cost to the patients? Zero.

Case Study #3: A telehealth strategy using webinars had a small but “positive impact on hypertensive patients” in Brazil, in terms of their adherence to antihypertensive drugs, low salt diet and physical activity. The program was managed by Family Health Teams (FHTs) consisting of doctors, nurses, nurse technicians and community health agents. According to researchers studying the program, the vast majority of practitioners do not specialize in primary care, and only recently have specialized courses emerged to provide that training.

“Given the country’s continental dimensions, high demand, and inadequate amount of training and continuing education centers for primary care professionals, telehealth presents itself as a promising strategy to improve access to training, leading to the improvement of hypertension,” they noted.

Despite growing evidence that telehealth is working for more and more patients, concerns remain about security, privacy and medical liability, with critics also arguing that telehealth lacks common standards. Government agencies, they say, have often been slow to reimburse patients for many telehealth services. Further, some health professionals argue that telehealth threatens to compromise the doctor-patient relationship.

Tell us what you think. Do the advantages of telehealth outweigh possible drawbacks? Have you leveraged telehealth services, either as a patient or provider?

For more information on how telehealth is changing the concept of health care delivery, dowload the White Paper from Tunstall Americas: “Telehealth Solutions Enhance Health Outcomes and Reduce Healthcare Costs.”

Categories: Cost-Savings

Filling the Financial Gap When Health Insurance Isn’t Enough

You can’t escape the headlines: rising expenses and high unemployment. And even for the employed, a sharp reduction in health benefits – coupled with a steep increase in out-of-pocket costs, including deductibles, copayments and coinsurance – is making access to life-saving and life-sustaining therapies out of reach for many Americans.

For some individuals and families, these out-of-pocket expenses can total thousands of dollars each month – much more than many folks earn.

When people in these circumstances need help, many turn to Patient Assistance Programs (PAPs), while others apply for financial assistance through independent non-profits such as The HealthWell Foundation. PAPs – which are offered by state governments or drug makers – are designed for those who cannot afford the cost of medication. Groups like Partnership for Prescription Assistance, NeedyMeds, RxAssistRxOutreach, and the National Center for Benefits (provided by the National Council on Aging), empower individuals to sort out their options and get connected to the PAP that’s right for them, sometimes even helping applicants fill out their paperwork.

What do all these organizations have in common? They focus on addressing the financial strains confronting individuals with health insurance who need important medical treatments but cannot cover their associated out-of-pocket costs and premiums.

Individuals like Marianne of Tarpon Springs, Florida, for example. For Marianne, living frugally her whole life didn’t help. Even though she had health insurance, paid all her bills on time, and once earned a good living as a librarian, the 70-year-old breast cancer survivor could not afford the medicine she needed to keep the cancer from coming back.

With no other alternatives to the $500-a-month life-saving medicine, the fixed-income senior citizen didn’t know where to turn. Until her doctors pointed her to the HealthWell Foundation.

Two years later, and thanks to the financial assistance she received from HealthWell, the still-healthy Marianne travels, cycles, and enjoys the life that continues to “delight and amaze” her.

“I am so fortunate,” she says. “I’ve always been glad to give back to others, and now that I’ve needed the help, I know just how precious it is to receive the kindness and compassion of others.”

Marianne is one of many Americans who benefit from organizations like HealthWell, which has provided copayment assistance to more than 164,000 patients since 2004. Without these critical funds, many of those living with chronic and life-altering illnesses would not have the treatments they need in order to live healthier lives.

No child or adult in the U.S. should go without health care because he or she cannot afford it.

How can charitable copayment assistance organizations partner with businesses, government and other stakeholders to achieve lower costs for health care treatment?

The HealthWell Foundation sponsors this blog.

Get the conversation going in the comments section.

Categories: Cost-Savings

Why Aren’t Patients Taking Their Medication?

It’s a question with which many in the health care community grapple. In some cases, it’s a matter of affordability, as the high cost of certain therapies makes it difficult to pay for needed drugs AND to pay for essentials like rent or the mortgage, utilities and food. Even with medical insurance, the copays for these expensive therapies put them well out of reach for many Americans.

In other cases, it’s a matter of easy access to refills – a problem being solved, in part, by mail-order pharmacies. This was especially the case among 44,000 hypertension patients recently studied by Kaiser Permanente. Research found that making prescription refills more affordable and easier to access might reduce disparities in medicine-taking behaviors among racial and ethnic groups.

The study authors noted that as early as the first refill, some patients are forgoing their hypertension medication. The result? According to the CDC, hypertension can lead to heart attacks, strokes and deaths related to cardiovascular disease. The impact is devastating to communities of color, particularly among African Americans, where males have the highest hypertension death rates of any other racial, ethnic or gender group.

The research found that both mail-order pharmacy enrollment and lower copayments were associated with a significantly lower likelihood of being non-adherent.

Said the study authors, “Our findings suggest that while racial and ethnic differences in medication adherence persist – even in settings with high-quality care – interventions such as targeted copay reductions and mail order pharmacy incentives have the potential to reduce disparities in blood pressure.”

If you’re in the health care field, what ideas have you seen put in action that work to improve treatment compliance? As a patient, have you ever stopped taking your medication due to high cost or hassles getting refills? And have you turned to mail-order pharmacies or copay assistance programs for help?

Categories: Cost-Savings