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Study Shows 70% Of Docs Believe Drug Coupons Improve Patient Compliance

Despite considerable efforts by insurers to bad mouth prescription co-pay cards, a new, $180,000 study from Alliance Life Sciences (one of the largest healthcare consulting agencies in the United Sates) finds these promotional tools are having a substantial effect on physician and consumer behavior. Alliance interviewed more than 600 doctors, pharmacists and patients and came up with some interesting statistics. The results clearly suggest that insurers are going to have to work much harder if they want to limit co-pay card usage.

Consider this: more than 70 percent of physicians – and pharmacists – believe that co-pay cards improve both patient compliance and persistency. This is an extremely important finding, given the ongoing concerns that so many patients fail to stick with their medication regiments.

As a result, some 40 percent of physicians say they have deliberately prescribed certain drugs primarily because a co-pay card is available. Any drug maker who gleans this kind of intelligence is not going to walk away from the co-pay card concept any time soon.

And co-pay cards are clearly catching on with patients. About 28 percent requested a specific prescription from their physician because they knew a co-pay card was available. And the survey, which was conducted by Alliance Life Sciences Consulting Group, found physicians almost always accede to these requests.

The survey relied on a combination of focus groups with patients; interviews with primary care physicians, cardiologists and neurologists; questionnaires given 200 patients, 200 physicians and 200 pharmacists as part of a research project that also queried payers.

Not surprisingly, co-pay cards are showing up all over the place. Roughly one-third of patients obtain the cards from their physicians, while 28 percent report they receive cards in the mail and another 20 percent go online to obtain co-pay cards. In short, co-pay cards are now ubiquitous and ingrained into the fabric of the American healthcare fabric.

The last finding is, arguably, even more important – the firm suggests that co-pay cards are starting to replace samples. This conclusion is based on the fact that 55 percent of physicians say they are giving out more co-pay cards to their patients and fewer samples than they did a year ago.

The rationale for physicians is obvious – they recognize that patients instantly respond to discounted medications and feel encouraged that adherence can improve as a result. And co-pay cards likely cause fewer administrative and regulatory headaches than stocking samples.

This also dovetails with the increasing tendency among some physicians to limit or eliminate visits from sales reps. By relying on co-pay cards, these physicians are more likely to justify restrictions on sales rep visits, since samples are widely acknowledged as a means of encouraging patients to begin treatment regimens.

The findings suggest that drug makers may be able to build a case to win over insurers. But to do so, drug makers will have to provide insurers with bountiful data about actual therapy costs, health outcomes and patient compliance in hopes that co-pay cards can be seen as having a positive effect on formularies.

Just the same, this remains doubtful. Although the firm did not offer specific findings, the research noted that most payers remain opposed to co-pay cards, which is hardly news. Insurers, however, must now cope with the sobering reality that not only patients, but physicians favor these tools.