Study finds mail-order pharmacies may improve patients' medication adherence

NEW YORK Buying medicine by mail may encourage patients to stick to their doctor-prescribed medication regimen, new research suggested.

Researchers from UCLA and Kaiser Permanente's Division of Research in Oakland, Calif., found that patients with diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol who ordered their medications by mail were more likely to take them as prescribed by their physicians than patients who obtained medications from a local pharmacy.

For the 12-month study, researchers analyzed medication refill data from 2006 and 2007 for 13,922 Kaiser Permanente members in Northern California. They defined "good adherence" as having medication available and on-hand at least 80% of the time. The researchers found that 84.7% of patients who received their medications by mail at least two-thirds of the time stuck to their physician-prescribed regimen, compared with 76.% of those who picked up their medications at traditional "brick-and-mortar" Kaiser Permanente pharmacies.

"The field of medication adherence research typically focuses on patient factors for poor adherence, leading to a 'blame the patient' approach for nonadherence," said O. Kenrik Duru, the study's lead researcher and an assistant professor in the division of general internal medicine and health services research at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "Our work helps to place this issue in a larger perspective. Our findings indicate that mail-order pharmacies streamline the medication-acquisition process, which is associated with better medication adherence."

The study findings appear in the online edition of the American Journal of Managed Care. Grants from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases funded this study.

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