MERCK/MEDCO LAUNCHING 12 DISEASE-SPECIFIC COMMUNICATION PROGRAMS
MERCK/MEDCO LAUNCHING 12 DISEASE-SPECIFIC COMMUNICATION PROGRAMS in 1994 with the goal of improving drug therapy compliance, particularly for patients on chronic therapy, Medco Containment Services Senior Exec VP Per Lofberg said following shareholder approval of the Merck/Medco merger Nov. 18. Medco already has initiated a communications program directed at diabetics that uses direct mail and telephone support from pharmacists to encourage patients to continue using prescribed medications. The current program targets 150,000 diabetics in the U.S. who belong to prescription drug plans managed by Medco. The patients and their physicians receive quarterly communications designed to increase compliance with the recommended therapy as well as telephone contact with pharmacists. The programs to be introduced in 1994 include "several" therapeutic categories for which Merck produces drugs, Lofberg said, including therapies to reduce high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Merck stressed the added prescription volume potential from better drug compliance when the proposed merger with Medco was announced last summer ("The Pink Sheet" Aug. 2. p. 6). Another likely candidate for a communication program is Merck's Proscar for treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia, the company noted. Merck already tracks Proscar users through the Patient Support Program initiated following finasteride's approval in June 1992 ("The Pink Sheet" July 13, 1992, T&G-12). Reiterating the rationale behind the Merck/Medco goal of coordinated pharmaceutical care and its relation to health care savings, Merck Chairman Roy Vagelos said in a Nov. 18 statement on the $6 bil. merger approval that "duplicate therapy, excessive dosing and unintended drug interactions now cost the nation more than $9 bil. a year, and as many as 25% of all hospital admissions for the elderly happen because they don't take their medicines properly. Many people simply aren't receiving the most cost-effective medicines," Vagelos said, "or they stop taking their prescriptions, or take multiple drugs without the knowledge of their doctor or pharmacist. Coordinated pharmaceutical care is consistent with the goals of health care reform," he said, "because it will link all the participants...to assure the best use of cost-effective medicines for the best patient health." Although Merck will work with Medco to provide any outcomes research that may be communicated to physicians and patients through communications programs and other such ventures, the drug manufacturing side of the Merck/Medco business will never have direct access to patient information, the two companies stressed. To maintain patient privacy, "some sort of wall" will be constructed to ensure that Merck "will be treated like any other drug manufacturer," Medco Chairman Marty Wygod said. He noted that Medco's commitment to preserving patient privacy has been a major reason in the cost containment company's success in retaining clients. Wygod noted that the cost-effectiveness and outcomes studies Medco anticipates getting from Merck and sharing with its customers will enable Merck/Medco to go beyond reducing prescription drug costs and move into other areas of concern to clients, including workplace productivity and employee absenteeism.
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