March 28, 2012
BOSTON — Massachusetts residents do a better job than residents of most states when it comes to taking medications as prescribed, but there's still room for improvement. That's according to new studies released Tuesday by CVS Caremark, Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard University.
Tom Hubbard of the Cambridge-based health policy think tank NEHI said people who don’t follow their prescriptions get sicker, end up in the emergency room and rack up big medical bills.
“If people don’t take their medications as prescribed, they’re not only not getting better but it’s a tremendous source of sort of futile effort in the health care system and wasted money,” he said.
Nationwide nearly half the people who are taking a drug to treat a chronic condition like high blood pressure or high cholesterol will stop taking their medication within the first year. In Massachusetts, about one-third of such people trail off.
Hubbard's heard many excuses, ranging from "the pills are too expensive" to "I feel better so I can stop taking them." He said there’s not one clear solution for improving medication compliance rates. But Massachusetts might have scored better than other states because drugs are more affordable here, he said: "We’re better covered in Massachusetts than almost anyplace else in the country. More people have health insurance."
According to the study, Massachusetts ranked first in the nation when it came to use of cheaper generic drugs to treat diabetes, depression, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
But the study also found that Massachusetts ranks near the bottom of states whose residents take advantage of mail-order prescriptions, coming in 44th. Research shows that if people don’t have to make repeated trips to the drugstore for refills, they’re more likely to stay on their medications. The study suggests that doctors, insurers, pharmacists and lawmakers find ways to encourage more patients to use mail-order prescriptions.