More than a quarter of patients do not fill prescriptions for new medications

Research Activities, October 2010, No. 362

Studies show that many patients cease taking medications after filling their first prescription. Now a new study finds that many prescriptions are never filled at all. This practice, called primary nonadherence, can increase the risk of continued illness and even death, especially when the unfilled prescriptions control chronic conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol.

Researchers in Boston used a year's worth of data from an electronic prescribing system to track the number of electronic prescriptions issued and then examined pharmacy insurance claims to see how many were actually filled. Of the 195,930 e-prescriptions issued, 22.5 percent went unfilled. What's more, of the 82,245 prescriptions issued for new medications, 28 percent were never filled. Prescriptions to treat the chronic conditions of high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol were least likely to be filled, especially when they were newly prescribed.

The researchers assert that interventions to improve primary nonadherence should be targeted toward those who may have trouble paying for medications. That's because studies show that high cost-sharing requirements can delay treatment for chronic conditions. This study was funded in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS15175).

See "Primary medication non-adherence: Analysis of 195,930 electronic prescriptions," by Michael A. Fischer, M.D., M.S., Margaret R. Stedman, Ph.D., Joyce Lii, M.S., M.A., and others in the April 2010 Journal of General and Internal Medicine, 25(4), pp. 284-290.

Current as of October 2010
Internet Citation: More than a quarter of patients do not fill prescriptions for new medications: Research Activities, October 2010, No. 362. October 2010. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. http://archive.ahrq.gov/news/newsletters/research-activities/oct10/1010RA21.html