SPRINGFIELD — The Western New England University (WNEU) College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences completed a research study that evaluates cash prices for the most frequently prescribed classes of medications by type of dispensing community pharmacy.
The manuscript, “Comparison of Discounted and Undiscounted Cash Prices for Commonly Prescribed Cardiovascular Medications by Type of U.S. Community Pharmacy,” finds that online drug-discount platforms can help patients locate the lowest prescription-drug prices when paying out of pocket. The article was published recently in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.
Cardiovascular (CV) drugs are one of the most frequently dispensed drugs in U.S. community pharmacies. Every fifth prescription picked up in a pharmacy is for a cardiovascular medication. These drugs are used to treat hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, heart failure, and arrhythmias. The cash price of these life-sustaining medications varies significantly in community pharmacies.
“We found that price differences can fluctuate at least twofold per generic prescription,” says Minji Hong, a third-year WNEU pharmacy student and co-author of the manuscript.
Underinsured patients, patients covered by plans with high deductibles, or those with no insurance at all, regularly pay for their prescription medications out of pocket. These patients may often face a difficult decision between purchasing their medications and purchasing groceries for their families. Skipping doses or stopping the medications altogether may negatively affect health outcomes and can lead to expensive hospitalizations or even death. Unlike other consumer goods, patients are less likely to be aware that prescription medication prices can vary and therefore are less likely to shop around for the best price.
“My interest in this topic came from my passion for improving patient care,” Hong said. “As I was reading various studies to select a research project, it dawned on me that even the most effective medication can be of little value if a patient is unable to afford it. I like to apply the knowledge that I learn in the pharmacy program, and research was the perfect opportunity for me to do so.”
Dr. Natalia Shcherbakova, associate professor of Pharmacoeconomics and manuscript co-author, explained that the WNEU College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences “has been very successful placing graduates into highly competitive post-graduate training programs, in part due to the efforts of faculty closely mentoring our students in research. The university encourages students get involved in research with faculty as early as their first professional year; a few begin even earlier, during their pre-pharmacy years. Our students present research at national meetings and publish manuscripts by the time they graduate — or soon thereafter.”
Hong noted that, “at first, I was only working on this project for ‘Pharmaceutical Industry in a Global Context’ class. Dr. Shcherbakova advised me to expand the study scope so the project can be presented at a national research meeting and published in a peer-reviewed journal.”