New Studies Say Missed Meds Cost Our Health Care System $250 Billion A Year, Potentially Fixable

Text-message.jpgWe all know that failing to take medicine as prescribed adds to the costs of our health care. For example, when someone fails to take a course of antibiotics to the end of the bottle and their infection flares back up, requiring another trip back to the doctor, that makes health care more expensive. And when someone forgets to take heart medication and has a heart attack, the costs of treating that heart attack are vastly greater than the cost of the bottle of pills that might have prevented it.
But just how much extra are we paying in health care costs because of people’s forgetfulness (and in some instances) and their willful failures to take medications as prescribed? According to two new studies (one by researchers at Harvard), failures to take prescribed medicines cost American health care $250 billion annually. (H/t USA Today). That’s an absolutely staggering number.
To give you some perspective on its size, last summer the journal Health Affairs published the most recent estimate of the annual cost of medical malpractice lawsuits. Its best guess was that medical malpractice lawsuits cost the health care system, directly and indirectly, $55 billion a year.
The cost of missed meds is five times as large as all of the costs of medical malpractice (including payouts to injured patients and malpractice insurance premiums), but you don’t hear people saying, “Hey, let’s do something about the problem of missed meds. We can save ourselves a fortune and, in the process, we won’t have to trample the rights of the people maimed, paralyzed and killed by medical malpractice.” Instead we hear the crusading tort reformers haranguing us that frivolous medical malpractice lawsuits are bankrupting the health care system (when all of the costs of medical malpractice, both direct and indirect, amount to less than two percent of health care spending).
If there’s any silver lining to learning that missed meds are costing us $250 billion annually, it’s that the problem has quick fixes. Studies show that when people get text message reminders to take their medications, they take them more reliably. Also, when patients are automatically enrolled in mail-order pharmacies, so that they don’t have to go to the pharmacy for their first script or for refills, many more patients take their meds.
I have an idea. Before we sacrifice the victims of medical malpractice on the altar of health care economy, why don’t we try text messages and see if that knocks down the cost of health care any?

This blog in maintained by the Boston medical malpractice lawyers at The Law Office of Alan H. Crede, P.C.