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The Price Tag of Health: How the Cost of Medicine Impacts Patient Care

As a pharmacist with 3+ years of experience in the healthcare industry, I have witnessed firsthand the intricate relationship between the cost of medicine and the quality of care that patients receive. This issue is one that deserves our attention and collective efforts to find solutions that ensure everyone has access to the care they need.

The soaring cost of medication is a challenge that impacts patients, healthcare providers, and the entire healthcare system.

Here, I would like to shed light on how this cost burden can affect the quality of healthcare that patients receive:

1. Adherence and Outcomes

High medication costs can lead patients to skip doses or not fill their prescriptions at all. Not once, not twice did I come across cases of medication non-adherence in patients with chronic conditions during my work experience in a retail pharmacy set-up.

When patients fail to adhere to their prescribed medications due to financial constraints, their health outcomes are compromised.

In the long run, this can result in uncontrolled chronic conditions, more hospitalizations, and increased healthcare costs.

2. Access to Innovative Therapies

The latest breakthroughs in medical science have brought us remarkable innovations in treatments, including precision medicines and biologics. However, the cost of these therapies can be astronomical.

An example is Herceptin, an anticancer medicine for early-stage breast cancer that currently retails at KSh. 250,000.00 ($1750) per dose. This price is out of reach of a big chunk of the Kenyan population.

When patients cannot access these cutting-edge treatments due to financial barriers, they may miss out on potentially life-saving solutions.

3. Medication Switching

Some patients may be forced to switch from a prescribed medication to a cheaper alternative due to cost concerns.

While generic medicines are often as effective as their brand-name counterparts, this switch can disrupt a patient’s treatment plan and potentially lead to unexpected side effects or complications.

4. Health Inequity

The burden of high medication costs disproportionately affects vulnerable populations.

Low-income individuals and those without adequate insurance coverage are more likely to forego essential medications or seek less expensive alternatives, leading to disparities in health outcomes.

In Kenya, only 19% of the population is enrolled in any insurance cover.

5. Stress and Mental Health

The financial strain of affording medications can contribute to increased stress and anxiety for patients.

Mental health is an integral part of overall well-being, and this added stress can have a negative impact on a patient’s quality of life.

Having said that, here are a few proposals that I think would help alleviate the effects enumerated above:

1. Advocate for Policy Changes

As a country, we must advocate for policies that promote transparency in drug pricing, encourage competition, and ensure affordable access to essential medications for all.

2. Collaboration

Healthcare providers, pharmacists, pharmaceutical companies, and policymakers must work collaboratively to find sustainable solutions that balance the need for innovation with affordability.

3. Patient Education

Patients should be empowered with information about available assistance programs, generics, and alternative treatment options. Encourage open dialogues about medication costs during healthcare visits.

4. Research and Innovation

The government, in partnership with the private sector, should invest in research and innovation that not only discovers new therapies but also explores cost-effective ways to deliver these treatments to patients.

5. Community Outreach

Healthcare professionals should engage in community outreach programs to support underserved populations in navigating the complexities of the healthcare system and finding affordable medication options.

In all this, it should be understood that the cost of medicine is not just a financial issue. It’s a healthcare issue that affects the quality of care patients receive.

By addressing this challenge collaboratively, healthcare can be made accessible and affordable for all, ensuring better outcomes and improved quality of life for patients across the globe.

Dr. Libeya Bethwel

Pharmacist and Healthcare Advocate

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