Spring cleaning: let’s get at that medicine cabinet

May 19, 2022

For business owners, plan administrators, and sponsors

By Alex Carducci

Alex Carducci is a practicing pharmacist. He’s also a product director involved in health strategy at Manulife.

Going to your fridge and finding some delicious leftovers can be a real treat (apple pie, anyone?) But finding leftovers in your medicine cabinet is an entirely different and potentially dangerous situation.

Why so many leftover drugs?

The pharmacist in me cringes when I’m watching a show or movie and a character opens a medicine cabinet that’s packed with leftover and unused medication. And while I know they’re just props, I suspect that art closely imitates life in this regard. I fear just about every medicine cabinet or bathroom drawer contains some unused, expired, or long-forgotten prescription or over-the-counter medications.

From a safety perspective, there’s always the danger that unused medications can fall into the wrong hands and be taken improperly, either deliberately or by accident. We all know this can have serious, and even deadly, consequences.

From a health outcomes perspective, the overflowing medicine cabinet suggests that patients haven’t completed their medications as directed. This can be for a variety of reasons. Perhaps a drug wasn’t well tolerated by a patient, so the doctor prescribed an alternative treatment. But it might also be that the patient stopped taking the medication when they started to feel better.

I hope this post encourages you to look in your own medicine cabinet. But, just a reminder, don’t flush medications down the drain. The government of Canada says, “due to improper disposal of these drugs, there are traces of pharmaceuticals in the environment – in the soil and in the water.” To get rid of old, unwanted medications (including natural health products) drop them off at your local pharmacy for proper handling and disposal.

It may seem reasonable, but this choice can increase the cost of getting sick – both in terms of the personal effects on the patient, and the financial cost to the healthcare system and the benefits plan.

When prescriptions aren’t taken according to the doctor’s directions, the symptoms can return, leading to a prolonged illness, another trip to the doctor, time away from work and family, and perhaps the need for additional and even stronger medication.

Along with the money spent on prescriptions that haven’t been taken, studies indicate that patients who don’t take the medicines their doctors prescribe can cost their organizations anywhere from 2 to 10 workdays due to the resulting absenteeism or disability1.

Using non-adherence data to influence member behaviours

To help our largest plan sponsors make informed decisions about their drug plans, we’re now able to provide reports that reveal what percentage of the group’s plan members are taking their medications as prescribed. Sponsors can see how their group’s results compare to industry benchmarks. Of course, for privacy, individual results are aggregated, and no member-level detail is shared.

This insightful data helps identify opportunities for educational programs or other supports that can empower members about their treatments. Anything we can do to help plan members take their medications as directed by their doctors is going to contribute to better health outcomes.

Doctors and pharmacists work together to find the medicine that’s the best fit for a patient. Sponsors help make those drugs financially available. As an insurer, we’re providing data-driven insights combined with programs that close the loop and encourage behaviours that contribute to better value and outcomes. With time, maybe we can even help save some space in medicine cabinets across the country.

Here are some of Manulife’s medication management programs and solutions:

ESC Pharmacy – helps ensure your plan members receive their maintenance medications when and where they need them. Includes compliance packaging, if needed.

Specialty Drug Care program – helps ensure members receive their specialty medications when and where they need them and includes personalized nurse case management to support the treatment plan and deal with any side effects.

Opioid Management program – helps ensure these powerful but potentially addictive medications are taken appropriately with messaging and education.

Virtual Health coaching (a pilot program) – early results show improved medication adherence after 3 months on the program through support from a health coach and reminders from the app.

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