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Study: More than 50% of patients would split pills to save money

BY Alaric DeArment

MINNEAPOLIS —If patient behavior over the last year is anything to go by, one of the biggest casualties of the economic crisis is medication compliance. According to a national poll released last month sponsored by health insurer UnitedHealthcare and conducted by Opinion Research Corp., 27% of people taking medications don’t take them as directed, including 18% who fail to take them altogether—practices that might save them money in the short term but could have devastating effects on their health.

But just more than one-third of respondents said they had asked their doctors or pharmacists about ways to save money on prescription drugs, such as tablet splitting. At the same time, according to the poll, 57% of patients would consider splitting tablets, but 9% of those taking tablets that can be safely split actually do so.

Many healthcare providers noticed the trend and responded accordingly, especially when higher-dosage pills cost the same as those of lower doses. “A lot of insurance companies and hospitals are stocking higher doses,” American Pharmacists Association media adviser and University of Cincinnati professor of pharmacy Bethanne Brown told Drug Store News. “[Patients] could ask their community pharmacist to split them if they have a relationship with their pharmacist, and [if] their pharmacist is willing to do that.”

UnitedHealthcare offers a voluntary tablet-splitting program that covers such drugs as Pfizer’s cholesterollowering Lipitor (atorvastatin) and Forest Pharmaceuticals’ antidepressant Lexapro (escitalopram oxalate). That, the company said, saved some customers almost $400 a year.

Cigna also offers a similar program, but encourages patients, when appropriate, to substitute generics for branded drugs, buy 90-day supplies instead of 30-day supplies and take higher doses at less frequent intervals.

But even experienced pharmacists don’t always get it right. “I think we probably introduce the same errors as a patient would,” Brown said. “We have a little bit more experience than patients. I think it’s just a risk in general in variations in amounts that patients would receive.” Brown said that using a handheld pill splitter can cause tablets to split unevenly, and many generic drugs simply will crumble under the blade.

According to a 2004 study published in The Medical Letter on Drugs and Therapeutics, trained pharmacists were, at best, able to split pills evenly two-thirds of the time. Powers Lake, Wis.-based TCGRx recently launched a tablet splitting machine that it said could split up to 16 tablets per minute with 2% variability between split halves.

Despite the risk of splitting mistakes, however, Brown said the practice had benefits. “I think sometimes it improves compliance because patients don’t feel they’re spending as much on their medications,” Brown said.

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Kroger declares quarterly dividend

BY Michael Johnsen

CINCINNATI The Kroger Co. announced that its board of directors declared a quarterly dividend of 9 cents per share to be paid on Sept. 1 to shareholders of record at of the close of business on Aug. 14.

Kroger, one of the nation’s largest retail grocery chains, employs more than 326,000 associates, who serve customers in 2,475 supermarkets and multi-department stores in 31 states.

On Thursday, the company announced that its president and COO Don McGeorge was retiring. McGeorge has been replaced by W. Rodney McMullen.

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Walgreens to test diabetes care model

BY DSN STAFF

NEW YORK Walgreens continues to flesh out its revamped strategy to be the nation’s most convenient and accessible provider of pharmacy and health-and-wellness services.

 

The latest plank in that platform is its plan to test a pharmacy-driven outreach and support program for patients with diabetes.

 

Diabetic-care services and product presentations are nothing new in the nation’s chain and independent drug stores; every pharmacy leader knows that diabetes is a major, (often undiagnosed) health challenge and a “gateway” disease that usually subjects its sufferers to a slew of other related conditions involving the circulatory system, the skin and other organs. It’s also no secret that diabetics generate far more in annual drug store sales to treat these related conditions.

 

What makes Walgreens’ pilot program worthy of notice are two things.

 

 

First, with some 6,800 retail pharmacies, 350 in-store and worksite clinics and a network of specialty pharmacies across the United States, the company wields enormous potential power in the healthcare marketplace. If it expands its fledgling diabetes pilot beyond the test stage, it has thousands of “points of care” through which it could offer diabetes support programs and other disease management offerings. It’s a huge potential resource to offer diabetic patients and their employer-based or government-sponsored health plans, not to mention those patients’ overburdened, time-constrained primary care doctors.

 

 

Second, Walgreens is very deliberately positioning its diabetes care offering as a part of a much broader, integrated healthcare platform that links patients in the program to all the company’s health-and-wellness capabilities, said Walgreens CEO Greg Wasson. And it dovetails neatly with the Obama administration’s call for “more preventive care and better access,” in the words of Walgreens’ top manager.

 

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