About 1 in 10 prescription drugs, mainly brand-name and expensive drugs and those for rare diseases, has a manufacturer-sponsored patient support programme, which usually includes financial, nursing and educational supports.
“In an era where policymakers are grappling with escalating drug prices and budgetary impacts globally, the pharmaceutical industry promotes patient support programmes as adding complementary value to a drug through supporting medication adherence and enhancing clinical outcomes, patient experience or quality of life,” writes Dr Quinn Grundy, a registered nurse and assistant professor at the Lawrence Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing, University of Toronto, with co-authors.
To understand the range of prescription drugs with patient support programmes, researchers quantified and evaluated patient support programmes for drugs on the market as of August 2022. The findings are published in the journal Canadian Medical Association Journal.
Of the total 2,556 prescription drugs marketed by 89 companies, they identified programmes for 256 drugs (10%). Almost two-thirds of companies (55; 62%) offered patient support programmes. Although only about 10% of drugs on the market are biologics, they represent more than half of drugs that have a patient support programme.
Patient support programmes most frequently existed for drugs that are expensive. Of the 2,214 drugs dispensed through retail pharmacies, 1,632 (74%) cost CAD$10 per unit or less, whereas those with a patient support programme had a median cost per unit of CAD$208.40.
The researchers note that they may have underestimated the number of support programmes, as their analysis relied on publicly available information and they may have missed patient support programmes for very specialised, rare drugs.
While financial supports, nursing support and counselling are valuable to patients, the researchers found duplication of services across companies marketing drugs with the same active ingredients, and lack of transparency around what programmes offered and their impacts.
“Whether manufacturer-sponsored patient support programmes are the optimal model to provide care related to medicines is an open question. Models of care should be designed around people’s health needs, not a particular product,” said Dr Grundy.