Free access to essential medication increases patient compliance by 35 percent and reduces overall health care spending by an average of over $ 1,000 per patient per year. This emerges from a two-year study that tested the effects of providing patients with free and convenient access to a carefully selected set of drugs.

The results published on May 21 in PLOS medicineCome as advocates are calling on Canada to embark on a path towards a payer, a public pharmacy. Canada is the only universal healthcare country that does not have a universal Pharmacare program.

A group of researchers led by St. Michaels Hospital of Unity Health in Toronto recruited a total of 786 patients in nine primary care locations in Ontario who reported cost-related medication non-compliance. Most of the study participants were recruited from the St. Michael’s Department of Family and Community Medicine, others from three rural areas. Participants were divided into two groups – half received free medication in the mail, the other half had their usual access to medication.

Two years after the start of the study, adherence to all appropriate prescribed drugs in the free distribution group was 35 percent higher than in the group that normally had access to drugs. Free drug distribution also reduced healthcare costs, including hospital stays, by an average of $ 1,222 per patient per year.

“The cost savings are significant, but they are less important than people who can simply afford to take life-saving drugs,” said Dr. Nav Persaud, scientist at the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute in St. Michael and lead author of the study.

“This is the first study giving people free access to a full set of drugs and hopefully the last one needed before policy changes,” said Dr. Persaud, who is also a general practitioner at St. Michaels Hospital.

In June 2019, the Advisory Board recommended universal public pharmacy for single payers for the implementation of National Pharmacare. It is estimated that such a program would save Canada an estimated $ 5 billion a year. The report cited a list of drugs, as used in the CLEAN Meds study, as a “starting point” for determining which drugs should be freely accessible to all Canadians.

The CLEAN Meds study focused on 128 essential drugs that were carried over from the WHO model list of essential drugs and remote treatments that were not needed in Canada. The drugs in the study included treatments for acute conditions such as antibiotics and pain relievers, as well as chronic conditions such as antipsychotics and HIV-AIDS drugs.

The paper is the end result of the CLEAN Meds study. Preliminary results of the study after a year of free medication showed improved adherence, improvements in some health outcomes, and that free essential medication distribution resulted in a 160 percent increase in the likelihood that participants could make ends meet.

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