Asthma Experts Urge GPs to Talk Money

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Doctors should school up on costs of asthma drugs to help Australians with the breathing condition access better value medications, new research has found.

A study by Woolcock Institute of Medical Research in Sydney has found that many patients aren’t well informed about which treatment choices are low-cost. The work, based on interviews with dozens of asthma patients, was published today in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health.

“Some asthma preventer medications have a lower cost for patients than others, but our research showed many patients didn’t know that different types of preventer inhalers are available, or the price differences,” says lead author Dr Sharon Davis. “We’re encouraging GPs to get informed about costs and have empathetic conversations with their patients to ensure they’re prescribing the best option for them.”

About 2.3 million Australians have asthma but relatively few use well manage their condition with daily use of an anti-inflammatory preventer inhaler as recommended in national guidelines. Studied show adherence is as low as 16 percent for those aged 35 to 64, and just seven per cent for younger adults.

“Those with poorly managed asthma are more likely to have severe exacerbations, ER department visits and hospital stays, so it’s vitally important we understand what is stopping people taking their medication,” Dr Davis says.

Researchers conducted in-depth interviews with 24 adults with asthma and 20 carers of children with the condition. They found that while most appreciated the benefits of regular preventer use, many didn’t take their preventer regularly, for various reasons.

“Some felt that it wasn’t needed every day, or they were concerned about side effects, while others simply forgot,” the lead researcher says. “Cost was also an issue for some, with complaints that some medications were quite expensive.”

In their findings, researchers encouraged patients to take a more proactive role with their health care professional, seeking information on medication options, costs, benefit and potential side effects.

Importantly, the paper also encourages GPs to study up on options and actively engage patients in discussions around the right choices. In many cases, doctors could inform patients about a lower-cost alternative preventer inhaler option.

“If our patients are more empowered and informed they’re more likely to fill their scripts and take their medication regularly, and live life with better managed asthma,” Dr Davis says.

The study was carried out in collaboration with University of Sydney, University of Wollongong, Asthma Australia and NPS Medicinewise.

The paper, “You’ve got to breathe, you know” – asthma patients and carers’ perceptions around purchase and use of asthma preventer medicines, can be viewed here: