Kids' prescriptions often going unfilled

NEW YORK Tue Sep 25, 2012 4:01pm EDT

A pharmacy employee looks for medication as she works to fill a prescription while working at a pharmacy in New York December 23, 2009. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

A pharmacy employee looks for medication as she works to fill a prescription while working at a pharmacy in New York December 23, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Lucas Jackson

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NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A large share of medication prescriptions to children on Medicaid may go unfilled, a new study suggests.

Researchers found that of nearly 17,000 prescriptions made to kids at two urban clinics, 22 percent were never filled. That's similar to what's been seen in studies of adults - among whom anywhere from 16 percent to 24 percent of prescriptions go unfilled.

"There are lots of studies that show that if you're not adherent to your medication, you'll have worse health outcomes," said lead researcher Dr. Rachael Zweigoron, of the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.

That goes for adults, but also for kids, according to Zweigoron. It's not clear from the study why more than one-fifth of prescriptions went unfilled. But parents were more likely to pick up certain medications than others.

Antibiotics and other drugs for infections were filled 91 percent of the time, versus 65 percent of prescriptions for vitamins and minerals, for example.

"When your child has an ear infection and is in pain, you have much more of a sense of urgency," Zweigoron said. But if a doctor recommends a vitamin D or iron supplement, she added, parents might not see the immediate need.

That raises the question of whether parents always know why a pediatrician has prescribed a medication or supplement. "Are we, as pediatricians, doing a good enough job of explaining the importance to parents?" Zweigoron said.

The findings, which appear in the journal Pediatrics, are based on 4,833 kids seen over two years at two clinics connected to Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago.

All of the children were on Medicaid, the government health insurance program for the poor. So it's not clear if the findings would be the same for U.S. kids with private insurance.

But Zweigoron said that unfilled prescriptions are likely a problem, to some degree, among families on private insurance, too. Her team did find that electronic prescriptions were almost 50 percent more likely to be filled than old-fashioned paper ones.

The reason is unknown, but Zweigoron speculated that convenience is a big factor. The finding is also in line with other studies showing that adults are more likely to fill their own prescriptions when they're sent to pharmacies electronically.

Zweigoron said more research is needed to weed out the reasons that parents often leave kids' prescriptions unfilled. For now, she suggested that if parents have questions about a medication, including worries about side effects, they speak up.

"If you're not sure why the doctor's prescribing something, you should feel empowered to ask questions," Zweigoron said.

"And if for some reason they're having trouble getting the medication," she added, "(parents) should bring that up, too."

SOURCE: bit.ly/QvDRFS Pediatrics, online September 24, 2012.

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Comments (3)
CalGal wrote:
It’s not class-based, not just poor people. Paper prescriptions are a bane, easily lost. I just misplaced one a few months ago, and wound up having to pay twice as much for the medication out of network.
If electronic prescriptions are more often filled, and they save paper and time, maybe we should make them the standard, with patients having to ask for paper.

Sep 26, 2012 11:49am EDT  --  Report as abuse
CalGal wrote:
It’s not class-based, not just poor people. Paper prescriptions are a bane, easily lost. I just misplaced one a few months ago, and wound up having to pay twice as much for the medication out of network.
If electronic prescriptions are more often filled, and they save paper and time, maybe we should make them the standard, with patients having to ask for paper.

Sep 26, 2012 11:49am EDT  --  Report as abuse
I’m curious, getting a scrip for vitamins? Whose insurance pays for vitamins? I know mine won’t pay for anything that can be purchased OTC. Maybe that is the problem – when they realize that getting a scrip doesn’t get them a price break, they simply don’t fill the scrip.

Oct 01, 2012 3:21pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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