An Expert Tip for Saving on Prescription Drugs

This article was written by Shiva, who wrote to offer some advice on how to shop for prescription medicine: don't assume that the new new stuff is better!

I am a general internist — a physician who provides primary care to adult patients — and am on the faculty of a medical school, where I teach medical students and residents. One of my interests is the excess marketing and use of expensive yet marginally effective prescription drugs.

I have found in clinical practice that the most effective medications tend to actually be “tried and true” ones approved over ten years ago with thousands of patient years of post marketing safety and efficacy data available. Rarely is the latest the greatest.

Unfortunately (this is hard for me to admit), my profession has been overrun by the pharmaceutical industry — you are very likely to be prescribed expensive brand name medications that are no more effective (in some cases less effective and/or less safe) than older, cheaper, and more thoroughly studied medications.

Here are two websites I recently found from Consumer Reports and Public Citizen that summarize the costs and benefits of various drugs prescribed for common conditions. They do it better than most reviews in the medical literature:

  • Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs — “Free guidance for consumers on prescription medications.”
  • — “Your expert, independent second opinion for prescription drug information.”

While physicians should be looking out for their patients regarding out-of-pocket costs, the reality is most physicians don't even know ball-park prices of the medications we prescribe.

Given the underinsured status of many Americans — especially related to pharmacy benefits — meeting your doctor armed with information about the relative cost-effectiveness of the drugs for your condition is essential for both your physical and financial health. And in terms of drug advertising, I recommend ignoring the magazine, newspaper, and television ads. We can all become “branded” within the blink of an eye. Don't let the flashy advertising dollars sell you on what's best for your health.

Remember: Check for coupons and rebates before having your prescriptions filled.

More about...Health & Fitness

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