Medications left on the shelf are a major, largely unacknowledged problem in U.S. health care

Boston, Mass. – The U.S. health care system must address the problem of patients not picking up newly-prescribed medicines if national goals for improved health and reduced costs of medical care will be realized, according to a NEHI white paper issued today.

The paper, “Ready for Pick Up: Reducing Primary Medication Non-Adherence – A New Prescription for Health Care Improvement,” outlines the problem of prescriptions for newly-initiated therapy that are not picked up for the first time and, thus, never taken, leading to the possibility of worse health and increased stress on the health care system.

The rate of primary non-adherence (PMN), that is, the percentage of first-time prescriptions abandoned by patients (and thus not picked up at pharmacies), can range as high as 30 percent among some classes of medication, according to recent research.

“In recent years our health care system has begun to take action to improve patient medication adherence, and yet primary medication non-adherence – the failure to commence newly-initiated therapy – remains a major but largely unacknowledged problem,” said Tom Hubbard, NEHI vice president of policy research, who authored the paper. “The good news is that potential strategies for reducing primary medication non-adherence are emerging as electronic prescribing (e-prescribing) becomes common. This paper is a call to accelerate action that will reduce the failure to pick-up newly initiated medication therapy.”

A May 2014 working group convened by the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS) Foundation, the Pharmacy Quality Alliance (PQA), and NEHI framed the issues outlined in the paper. The paper addresses key issues in the adoption and utilization of a new pharmacy quality metric on primary medication non-adherence endorsed by the Pharmacy Quality Alliance in November 2013. Prior to the advent of e-prescribing, tracking PMN rates was not feasible.