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Unfinished business

Posted 05/12/2012 by sevans

Hands up everyone who has never finished the course of treatment prescribed by their doctor – my hand is certainly up, and I should know better.

The tendency is to stop taking the tablets – or capsules or linctus or whatever – as soon as we start to feel better. It seems to be a human behavioural thing! If we are feeling better then we know there is no point in taking more medicine. And because they all come with patient information sheets, which can make worrying reading as we know, we will all start to suffer even the most uncommon side-effects if we carry on taking the drug. 

Apart from all the unused drugs that are laying around in medicine cabinets, or worse, in any other cabinets that children might find their way into, if we flush them away, we give little thought to the impact on the local water treatment plant and the water courses into which such plants discharge. It is well-known, for example, that many water courses are polluted with the metabolic products of the Pill, with all the impacts on freshwater marine life that are so well documented.

The correct approach, of course, is to return these unused medicines to a pharmacist for appropriate disposal, but how many of us do that? It would be good to think that any unopened medicines could perhaps be re-used but that is prohibited even if drug companies could accept them back; we all know there are plenty of people in the developing world who are crying out for modern medicines that are just too expensive for them.

But there is another overlooked group who could benefit from us taking the full treatment regime as prescribed – the pharma companies themselves. A recent survey by consultant CapGemini has shown that the estimated loss in revenue for the US pharma industry due to patients with chronic diseases, like diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol, but also HIV, oncology, transplant and glaucoma, not taking their medication is $188bn. Extrapolated to the global level this loss increases to $564bn. This represents a loss of 59% of all pharma revenues.

Thomas Forissier, principal at CapGemini, is reported as saying that many people don’t realise that a 10% boost in adherence or compliance could increase revenue by much more than 10%. He says that this 10% loss is based on the higher amount of revenue that could have been achieved, not on the actual revenue achieved.

Other observers point out that this could actually be translated into reduced health costs, something that every government is looking closely at. 

So before we cry crocodile tears for the pharma sector, we should also be thinking about the cost to each one of us when we don’t take the full treatment that has been prescribed for us. 

Neil Eisberg - Editor

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