The media has taken an active interest in the fact that many pharmaceutical companies have recently begun to exploit their latest acquisitions. Many medications that were previously available at a standard price have been raised by enormous amounts, making them virtually unattainable for patients. In response, many hospital pharmacies have completely stopped stocking these medications on a regular basis. This has changed the way patient care is managed throughout the hospital, as doctors are now being required to write different prescriptions for conditions that had previously been treated with the removed medication.
One of the medications that has been discussed by the Senate Special Committee for such a practice was nitroprusside. After much debate within individual hospitals, alternative treatments were discussed and agreed upon. Alternatives were found and nitroprusside was ultimately removed from rotation at Baystate Health in Massachusetts.
What Can Pharmacists Do?
The hospital pharmacist is one of the first people in the health care system who will become aware of higher costs as they become implemented. While it is certainly not their place to make the medical decisions for patients, or determine which medication would most successfully treat an individual patient, they are the front line defense for alerting the rest of the staff that the cost for the medication may outweigh the benefit.
Many times doctors are prescribing medications simply because it is what they are most familiar with. Many of the medications that have experience a dramatic price increase are the standard treatment for the conditions they treat. While alternatives may be available, they were generally not used unless the medication was contraindicated due to an allergy, other medical condition, or other medication the patient was receiving.
Simply making the hospital aware as these dramatic price increases occur will allow them to form committees, discuss options with physicians, and make an informed policy decision. In a very real way, the information on pricing that is available to the pharmacist is vital to developing thoughtful policy.
With continuing education requirements, pharmacists are often more aware of the latest medications that are hitting the market. Providing a list of possible alternatives to the medications that are in short supply, or that have become extravagantly expensive, is another way pharmacists can help the management team make a more informed decision on hospital policy.
Currently, the number of medications which have experienced these dramatic price hikes is relatively few. Within that small number, the majority of the medications have been for conditions that are infrequent. However, the trend seems to be increasing and pharmacists need to begin paying closer attention to price changes so they are better prepared to help their hospitals plan and prepare the best possible patient experience.