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Consumers’ role in pharma

by David Williams

Vince Kuraitis asks:

Just to be fair with with everybody being thrown questions, what are your thoughts about the role of consumers in the evolving pharma landscape?

There’s quite a bit that consumers can do:

From a clinical standpoint we can make better use of health care professionals:

  • Physicians: When doctors write a prescription they usually whip out the pad, write out the scrip and hand it to you. Next time ask them to share a little bit of their thought process. Why did they choose that drug? What else did they consider? What would their second choice have been? A discussion can be useful –maybe there’s some other information you want to provide, maybe your doctor just prescribes whatever the drug rep recommends
  • Pharmacists: Pharmacists are the most underutilized health professionals. They go to school for six years and then mainly hide in the back of the pharmacy counting pills. But pharmacists generally know a lot more about drugs than doctors. Plus they’re available in convenient locations and at convenient times. You don’t need an appointment and don’t have to pay. Pharmacists are loathe to second guess doctors, but get to know one and you’ll find they are a great source of information and will even give you their professional opinion on whether you are on the right drug(s). Newer grads carry PDAs with a advanced databases on them; every CVS, Walgreen’s and other chain pharmacist can call up a variety of drug information on their in-store terminal

We can also learn a lot from free resources including drugs.com and Drug Digest. If you can get your hands on professional literature such as The Medical Letter on Drugs & Therapeutics I encourage you to do so. You’ll find unbiased information that’s not so hard for a layperson to comprehend.
There’s a lot we can do to save money, too:

  • Shop at Wal-Mart or Sam’s Club and other deep-discount pharmacies. If you don’t have drug coverage –and maybe even if you do– drugs can be much cheaper at these stores than typical pharmacies. For generics, prices are often lower than your co-pay. Depending on your health and financial circumstances, consider dropping drug coverage completely or getting a plan with a high deductible for drugs
  • Use Fingertip Formulary to get up to date information on what drugs your plan covers and what tier they’re in. Use the tool to compare your plan with others to see if it makes sense to switch
  • Ask your doctor and/or pharmacist about generics and old classes of drugs that are definitely cheaper than the new branded products and have a longer safety and efficacy track record
  • Avoid drugs you don’t need

Finally, we can encourage policymakers to do the right thing. A current example is the debate over generic versions of biologic drugs. Congress is engaged in a pointless debate on whether to clear a path to market for generic biologics. Price regulation of off-patent biologics is a better idea, but I’m not sure we can get anyone to listen.

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