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Getting the facts on prescription drugs – academic detailing

RxFacts.org is an expanding service for physicians and patients that presents detailed information in an easily readable format about the quality, effectiveness and costs of prescription drugs for various health conditions. The organization is independent of the pharmaceutical industry, nonprofit, and relies on a board of physicians and researchers at Harvard Medical School to put together its reports and research. All the organization’s information and reports are freely available online.

Three of the sponsoring organizations, the Pennsylvania Department of Aging, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Public Health, and the Washington DC Department of Health, are starting to use the information in programs of “academic detailing.” This is a service that sends independent experts out to physician offices to sit down with doctors and other providers to present the latest research on different drugs. Unlike similar programs run by the pharmaceutical industry, these experts have no agenda to sell particular drugs but are armed with comprehensive digests of evidence from some of the top experts in the country on particular health conditions and the drugs used for their treatment.

Consumers Union, the publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, has a similar website – www.crbestbuydrugs.org — that puts drug information in easily readable and independent form, but it is much more aimed directly at patients.

These services are pointing the way to improving health care quality while saving money. NC started down this road last year by becoming one of the last states in the nation to enact a simple preferred drug list for its Medicaid program. On a preferred list, doctors have to fill out a special form to request drugs that are not on the preferred list because NC Medicaid’s physician review committee has found that there are less costly and just as effective alternatives available. While this helps with improving quality and lowering costs, there have been rumors of a drug industry response through industry visits to major medical practices to present pre-printed drug request forms that facilitate easy physician prescribing of drugs not on the list.

Given these sorts of tactics, North Carolina should start of consider the next step of “academic detailing” in improving care for patients. Putting more information that is unbiased, respected, and understandable directly in the hands of physicians through direct meetings and sit-down conversations clearly can have an even greater effect at improving quality and lowering costs. Getting similar information into the hands of patients and their families is equally important.

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