Sixty percent of Americans suffer from a chronic disease, making the need for affordable treatment options critical. Even with health insurance, sufferers struggle to manage their condition as prescription costs continue to rise and shift to the patient. The repercussions of this trend cascade through the patient-provider relationship, which now includes insurance and pharmaceutical companies.
Market Strategies International recently conducted a study of more than 1,000 adults age 18 and older to understand the impact of rising prescription costs in three key areas:
- Intentional prescription non-compliance
- Consumer attitudes towards healthcare providers, health insurance providers and pharmaceutical companies
- Consumer awareness and enrollment in patient assistance programs (PAPs)
What we found is a huge gap between needs and value as well as a strong indication that PAPs may be the panacea for improving compliance and attitudes towards pharmaceutical companies.
To Comply or Not to Comply
When speaking to patients who have been diagnosed with a chronic illness, 4 of 5 take medication to treat their illness. In general, compliance improves with age, but only half of patients age 18-24 take their recommended prescription.
What is driving this noncompliance? Millennials cite affordability, fear of side effects and pick-up inconvenience as the top three reasons. Among Baby Boomers, noncompliance is limited to affordability and fear of side effects.
What is at risk? Patients can expect their chronic condition to worsen, comorbid diseases to increase, and, in worst-case scenarios, some may die. Additionally, noncompliance perpetuates financial concerns because healthcare costs increase when a condition isn’t being managed properly. According to an article in Risk Management and Healthcare Policy, avoidable health care costs due to noncompliance are estimated at $100 billion to $300 billion in the US annually. This staggering number is representative of between 3% and 10% of total US health care costs.
Consumer Attitudes Toward Providers, Insurance & Pharma
Healthcare practitioners who provide personal care, like doctors and nurses, receive the highest rating with 3 of 4 consumers having positive impressions. As we move away from that close relationship, ratings go down. For example, the opinion of hospitals and pharmacies is still positive but not at the same level doctors and nurses enjoy. As we move even farther away from that closeness, opinion ratings drop further. Intuitively, this may be due to less personalization and face-to-face interaction.
For example, consumers feel very little positivity toward health insurance providers or pharmaceutical companies. On average, 1 in 3 consumers have a favorable impression while a comparable number have a negative impression. This negativity may also be a result of the large gap between consumer needs and the perceived value pharmaceutical companies deliver. This gap demonstrates that consumers feel pharmaceutical companies lack a vested interest in their care or a desire to be a partner in dealing with chronic illness.
The Need-Value Gap
How large is this need-value gap? The difference between consumers’ stated needs and pharmaceutical performance is 60 percentage points, on average. In other words, what consumers want most from pharma is what they perceive pharma to be doing the least. Specifically, consumers want pharma to:
- Behave ethically and provide affordable medications that have minimal side effects
- Provide financial assistance for medications
The table below reveals significant gaps across many key attributes:
Top Patient Assistance Programs
While there are usually several options available for financial prescription assistance depending on the brand and situation, less than one-third of patients have used any of the programs and another one-third have never even heard of these services. In the mind of the consumer, the most popular assistance is the use of physician samples. While not truly a patient assistance program, patients view samples as a method for lessening the financial burden of their prescription costs. Medication co-pay cards are also popular with patients. With both, awareness and knowledge of these options is primarily driven by the doctor’s office.
Among consumers who are not currently using specific PAPs, free medication had the biggest impact on compliance with 44% stating they would be a lot more likely to take their prescription. The remaining three assistance options (samples, co-pays cards and coupons) have similar levels of “a lot more likely” and “no change” in medication compliance.
Free Medication? Sign Me Up!
Let’s be honest: Who wouldn’t want free medication to treat a chronic condition? If the effort and cost to get a needed medication was minimal, of course compliance would improve. However, “free medications for all” is not a reality (regardless of what some politicians say) since pharmaceutical companies are not entirely philanthropic. Despite the good they can do, pharma companies must also earn a profit for shareholders. When pharmaceutical companies share the burden of patient expense—and patients actually use those avenues to pay for medications—attitudes toward pharmaceutical companies will likely improve.
First Things First
Pharma companies have an excellent opportunity to improve consumer attitudes by increasing awareness of all PAPs, which, in turn, would likely lead to better patient compliance among those who suffer from chronic disease. Of course, proactive communication is a huge component of this—pharma companies must educate consumers that they are working hard to lower costs and remove barriers to medication if they want to see a significant boost in consumer opinions.
Does this mean PAPs are a panacea for patient compliance and consumer attitudes? No, not entirely. But our study indicates that these efforts would go a long way toward curing some of what ails pharma companies.
If you want to find out how to measure and improve patient perceptions of your company and identify ways to close the gaps in patient compliance, please email me.