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Polypills: A new solution to help improve medication adherence

| Jun 01 2015

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 21.8 percent of people in the United States have used three or more prescription drugs in the last month. Unfortunately, almost half of people with chronic health conditions do not take their medications as prescribed. The inability to follow recommended prescription drug use – a lack of medication adherence – creates negative health consequences for these individuals and also drives nearly $300 billion in health care costs.

Health care innovators collaborate to study heart disease patients

People with cardiovascular disease who have had a heart attack are frequently prescribed multiple medications to lower cholesterol and blood pressure to help reduce the risk of further heart issues.

Recognizing that many factors impact medication adherence, one innovative approach that simplifies treatment for cardiovascular disease patients is a “polypill” – a single pill that contains multiple prescription drugs. For patients with cardiovascular disease, the polypill would contain aspirin, statins (which help lower cholesterol) and ACE-inhibitors (a blood pressure medication). Research done outside the U.S., led by Valentin Fuster, M.D, PhD and collaborators from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, the CNIC (National Centre for Cardiovascular Research in Spain) and Ferrer (Spain) showed that the polypill improved medication adherence for patients following a heart attack.

One innovative approach to increasing medication adherence among heart disease patients is a “polypill” – a single pill that contains multiple prescription drugs.

While the polypill is not yet available in the U.S., the Aetna Innovation Labs team is evaluating the potential impact for this new approach to improving adherence and outcomes among patients with cardiovascular disease. The Innovation Labs team worked with Mount Sinai, CNIC, Ferrer, Aetna Data Science and Aetna’s Healthagen Outcomes business area to examine claims data of Aetna members who were using the prescription drugs contained in the polypill. The research team showed that:

  • Individuals who took the recommended prescription drugs included in the polypill had a nearly 30 percent reduction in heart attacks, strokes and stent procedures compared to those who did not take their medication appropriately.
  • In order to benefit from the medication, people needed to follow their recommended prescription drug routine at least 80 percent of the time. When those studied took their prescription medications less than 80 percent of the time, they did not see any benefit to their health.
  • People who followed their recommended prescription drug routine went to the hospital less frequently. While the study was based on Aetna patients only, such results have implications for significant cost savings when extended to the larger U.S. population with a history of heart attack – an estimated $200 million in avoided medical costs annually.

The collaborative research was highlighted last year at the European Society of Cardiology meeting in Barcelona, Spain, and recently at the prestigious International Society for Pharmacoeconomics and Outcomes Research (ISPOR) annual conference.

Making it easier to take your medicine

Cardiovascular disease is both incredibly deadly and costly. About 610,000 people die of cardiovascular disease in the United States every year–that’s 1 in every 4 deaths. A report from the American Heart Association estimated that costs associated with cardiovascular disease will reach $818.1 billion by 2030.

As we look to address cardiovascular disease and the overall issue of medication adherence, it is important that we try to use practical solutions. Making it easier for people to take medications they are already prescribed may sound like a no-brainer idea. However, identifying and implementing multiple approaches that truly change behavior – like taking one pill instead of many – can have a profound impact on the health of our population and reduce health care costs.

Editor’s note: The information in this story is based on research using Aetna claims data. All analyses were done by Aetna Data Science and only aggregate data was released. The “polypill” mentioned in the story is not currently available in the U.S.

The Cardiovascular Polypill (Trinomia®/Sincronium®) is marketed in Latin America, including Mexico, Argentina and the Caribbean, and in Europe, including Spain and Portugal. Trinomia®/Sincronium® have also received regulatory approval in 13 additional European countries where it will be launched during 2015 and 2016.

Aetna Innovation Labs Aetna Innovation Labs is a source for unique ideas and programs that provide market-leading capabilities to improve health care quality and reduce costs for our customers and members. Through this organization, Aetna can test specific initiatives such as those related to disease prediction and intervention; rapidly determine success rates and impact across populations of members; and quickly expand programs that show promise.