NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Doctors Prescribe Costliest Blood Pressure Medication

April 28, 2004

Doctors often prescribe newer, more expensive drugs for high blood pressure instead of the ones recommended under medical guidelines. Researchers Michael A. Fischer and Jerry Avorn of Harvard University's Brigham and Women's Hospital said that nationally the savings could amount to $1.2 billion a year on high blood pressure medicine alone.

  • About 40 percent of the time, patients were prescribed different drugs than those called for under medical guidelines, according to the study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
  • Getting doctors to prescribe the preferred treatments would have saved the state $11.6 million in 2001, the study found.
  • The study found that calcium channel blockers accounted for the most spending, about $17 million, with an average cost of $33.39 a prescription -- by comparison, the least expensive drugs, diuretics called thiazides, cost $5.33 a prescription.

The researchers did not examine why doctors go with the costlier drugs, but they speculated that aggressive drug-company advertising may be one reason.

However, other experts say advertising is only part of the story. Patients often believe the best care is the costliest and push for more expensive treatments. Researchers believe similar savings could be found throughout the health care system without compromising patient care.

Source: Associated Press, "Study: Doctors Often Pick Costlier Drugs," Intelihealth Health News, April 21, 2004; Michael A. Fischer and Jerry Avorn, "Economic Implications of Evidence-Based Prescribing for Hypertension: Can Better Care Cost Less?," Journal of the American Medical Association, April 21, 2004.

For JAMA abstract

For AP article


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