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Understanding and Using Your Drug Data to Drive Wellness Program Decision Making

Posted Feb 28 2010 12:00am
A myriad of health problems are treated with pharmaceuticals and in many cases, the use of prescription drugs keeps people from needing more expensive treatments. Surveys show approximately half of the population has taken a prescription drug in the past month (you can find some interesting statistics in this report by the CDC). More troubling for those that budget for such things, prescription drug expenditures have risen more rapidly than any other health costs.

Roughly 20% of our association’s current health plan expenses are for prescription drugs. Digging into that data, I noticed we had a significant number of people taking medication for high blood pressure. One of the first things we offered staff as part of our wellness program was free blood pressure checks. I also expected this might reduce the number of office visits paid for by our health plan because people wouldn’t incur a visit just to have their blood pressure checked.

It was a good start. In 2005, however, our prescription drug coverage skyrocketed 39%. Back to the data; I figured I needed to know more about our staff’s needs. Digging through the utilization reports from our carrier, I looked up each of the drugs that showed up on a report and calculated their contribution to our total drug cost. Doing so gave me a better picture of our association’s health profile. We made adjustments.

Of course, the report continues to change over time. For instance, I have noted a decline in people using sleep aides and taking medication to treat high blood pressure. We’re also filling fewer prescriptions to treat thyroid conditions. I have a report that was run last October in front of me now. Here are some things that jump out:

  • We have 39 plan participants taking cholesterol lowering
  • 20 people take proton pump inhibitors to reduce gastric acid production and treat conditions like ulcers and reflux
  • 11 people are taking antidepressants
What does the data tell me this time? Emphasizing weight loss and exercise like we’re doing with our Biggest Loser program and Healthy Activities campaign should help. It also may be time to hold another gastric health seminar.

More broadly, it's clear to me that any wellness program should take prescription drug use into account. Beyond just giving us an organizations' health picture, we can use it to help our staff be better informed consumers and do our part to help them avoid preventable noncompliance (under- or over-dosing, dangerous drug interactions, etc.). Simply put, the role of pharmaceuticals has risen so dramatically that it would be foolish not to.
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