When Should You Ask About Auto-Refill?

Auto-refill for prescriptions is all the focus lately.  Everyone from the big PBMs to the local pharmacies are encouraging this.  It helps with adherence (or at least with adherence calculations since you can’t force someone to take the pills just because they have them).  It addresses one of the common patient reported issues with adherence which was that they forgot.  They ran out of pills or didn’t know to refill the medication.  In some cases, a few days of pills may not be a big issue, but in other categories, this could be a problem. 

In general, professionals consider taking medication 80% of the time (or 80% medication possession ratio) to be adherent.

So, what is auto-refill?  You sign up to have your medication refilled when it’s time for a new bottle and then mailed to you or ready for you at your retail pharmacy. 

One question is whether this includes auto-renewal.  To most consumers, renewal means nothing, but it does in the pharmacy business.  When you get a script, it is only good for 12-months.  That could be twelve 30-day fills or four 90-day fills.  When you’re done, you need a new prescription from your physician.  That is called a “renewal”.  To most consumers, we just think of it as we ran out of refills.  So the critical question here is whether you include renewals in the auto-refill process.  I certainly advocate for yes.  If I run out of medication and expect my prescription to be refilled (because I signed up for auto-refill), I would want my pharmacy to reach out to my prescriber proactively.  Or, even if I’m just planning on refilling, I’d like my pharmacy to let me know in advance that I need a renewal or new Rx since I don’t have any refills remaining.  That can delay the process so without doing that you can create a gap in care.

That gap-in-care is one of the reasons why patients drop out of mail (which may happen to me).  In my case, I waited until I was down to 5 days supply of my medication imagining that my pharmacy would call me to remind me to refill.  They never did so I called to refill, but I was out of refills so a renewal is needed.  Getting in touch with my prescriber could take a few days so now I’m not sure what might happen.  Ideally, I would get a confirmation from them on when it’s coming, and I could go to a local pharmacy and get a 3-day “bridge supply” for a minimal fee.  We shall see.

But, what I recently found interesting (that took me down this path) was some research from CVS Caremark that was recently presented saying that

According to Keller, new research by CVS Caremark seeks to address the fact that many healthcare decisions unnecessarily are complicated by the lack of clear and plain language. In addition, choices for such programs as automatic refill of prescriptions or generic alternatives can be overlooked because those options are not readily transparent to the consumer, Keller noted.

“Through this research we are testing options presented through four different communications channels to see how consumers react to different scenarios,” Keller said. “One of our preliminary findings looking at consumers on the Web shows that if we reach out and present a decision to choose automatic refill in advance of renewing a prescription, they sign up at twice the rate of those who were passively presented an opt-in choice after receiving a prescription.”

For those of us in the communication space, this is interesting.  How you present information…when you present information…the language you use…All of these things are important as demonstrated here.

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