Pharmacies Compete, Patients Win

Publix, Albertsons/Safeway, Meijer, Giant Eagle, Discount Drug Mart, Wegmans Food Market, Inc. win 2016 TIP Challenge

Pharmacist and comsumerWhen she reviews her list of patients and sees the 75-year-old man who hasn’t picked up his prescription refill, the pharmacist wonders if it’s because of one of several common situations. Perhaps he has skipped several doses since his last refill, taken smaller doses than prescribed, or even stopped the medication altogether.

Unless these changes were intentional steps in his care plan, they can be detrimental to his health. When people don’t take their medication as prescribed by their physician, it doesn’t work as well as it should. And that makes poor health outcomes more likely—more trips to the emergency room or stays in the hospital, for example.

So, rather than shrugging her shoulders and moving on to the next task, the pharmacist dials the patient’s number to figure out why he hasn’t picked up his pills and whether they can find a solution to help him take his medication in the prescribed dose and frequency.

This scene played out again and again in pharmacies across the country last year during UnitedHealthcare’s 2016 Targeted Intervention Program (TIP) Challenge. The challenge engaged pharmacies in friendly competition to improve medication adherence rates among people covered under Medicare Advantage-Part D plans who are taking medications for diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

The competition recognizes a total of six winners, two in each of three pharmacy categories. This year’s winners are Publix and Albertsons/Safeway in the large pharmacy category (900-plus locations), Meijer and Giant Eagle in the medium-sized pharmacy category (200-899 locations), and Discount Drug Mart and Wegmans Food Market, Inc. in the regional retail pharmacy category (fewer than 200 locations).

"Pharmacists have an incredibly important role to play in making sure seniors and other Medicare beneficiaries are taking their medications properly,” said Steve Nelson, CEO of UnitedHealthcare Medicare & Retirement. “The winners of this year’s TIP Challenge significantly boosted medication adherence rates, which is a critical component of helping people live healthier lives."

UnitedHealthcare donated $15,000 to the American Diabetes Association on behalf of each winner, for a total of $90,000. Why concentrate on diabetes? Approximately 25 percent of people enrolled in a UnitedHealthcare Medicare Advantage plan have the disease, and many of them have complicated medication regimens. People with diabetes are often prescribed medication to lower cholesterol and/or blood pressure as well as glucose-lowering medicine, for example.i

"We are grateful for the generous support from UnitedHealthcare,” said Kevin L. Hagan, CEO of the American Diabetes Association. “Pharmacists are a critical part of the health care team for people with diabetes, helping them stay on track with medications that help them manage their condition and maintain their quality of life. Initiatives like UnitedHealthcare’s TIP Challenge are an innovative and practical way to encourage medication adherence for older adults with diabetes."

Medication adherence problems certainly aren’t limited to people with diabetes, however. Nearly three in four adults fail to take medications as prescribed, according to the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.ii

For older adults, sticking to medication schedules is particularly important: Nearly 90 percent of adults over 65 take at least one prescription medication, and nearly 40 percent take five or more.iii

To facilitate the TIP Challenge, UnitedHealthcare enlisted the help of OutcomesMTM®, a company that works with pharmacies to provide medication therapy management services to their patients. UnitedHealthcare helped OutcomesMTM coordinate directly with pharmacies to conduct outreach to people that could potentially benefit from additional support.

After pharmacists became aware that a person wasn’t picking up his or her medication on time, the next step was to find out why. Some people have memory issues that make it difficult to remember to take their medicine—or to pick up a refill. People with a complicated medication schedule may simply get confused about what they are supposed to take, how much, and when. For still others, the cost of medication might be a financial hardship, leading them to try to "stretch" their medicine by taking it less frequently than prescribed.

Once a pharmacist knows why someone isn’t sticking to his or her medication schedule, the next step is to help him or her find solutions. A pillbox with separate compartments kept in a prominent place can be helpful for people with memory issues, and pharmacists may be able to work with physicians to find lower-cost alternatives for those who can’t afford a particular prescription.

But one of the easiest solutions for some people is simply to reduce the number of times each year that they have to think about refilling their prescriptions. As part of the TIP Challenge, pharmacies connected with customers to help remind them to pick up their refills on time and also to consider switching from a 30-day supply of medication to a 90-day supply.

There’s no easy formula to help every person live a healthier life. But when someone isn’t taking his or her medications as prescribed, it may negatively impact his or her health. A phone call at the right time—before problems start—sometimes makes all the difference. 

i Blackburn, D.F., Swidrovich, J., Lemstra, M. (2013). Non-adherence in type 2 diabetes: practical considerations for interpreting the literature. Journal of Patient Preference and Adherence. 7:183-189. doi:  10.2147/PPA.S30613Opens a new window

ii Improving Prescription Medicine Adherence is Key to Better Health Care, PhRMA, January 2011 http://phrma.org/sites/default/files/pdf/PhRMA_Improving%20Medication%20Adherence_Issue%20Brief.pdfOpens a new window

iii Health, United States, 2015, with Special Feature on Racial and Ethnic Disparities. Table 79: “Prescription drug use in the past 30 days by sex, race and Hispanic origin, and age: United States, selected years 1988-1994 through 2009-2012.” U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Center for Health Statistics https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hus/hus15.pdf#079Opens a new window

All other statistics in this release can be attributed to UnitedHealthcare Internal Data, 2016.