Patients over 50 may take meds less if pill appearance changes a lot, study says

A lack of consistency in the appearance of prescription drugs may contribute to medication nonadherence, a study conducted by researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical school found.

The researchers conducted two independent national surveys of 1,000 patients 50 years and older taking generic drugs for diseases including depression, diabetes, epilepsy, hyperlipidemia and hypertension. The surveys included 710 pharmacists practicing in chain, franchise or independent pharmacies. Responses were collected between January and April 2016. 

The study, published Aug. 12 in the American Journal of Managed Care, found that 12 percent of patients said they stopped using their medications or used it less frequently after the pill appearance changed size, shape, color or markings. 

Many of the pharmacists surveyed reported changes in pill appearance occurring frequently in their pharmacies, with 47 percent reporting changes six times or more per month. More than four-fifths of pharmacists reported that their pharmacy changed generic drug manufacturers with resulting changes in pill appearance at least twice per month.

Patients refilling prescriptions for chronic diseases may experience frequent changes in pills' appearances, and about 50 percent of chronic disease patients are estimated to be medication nonadherent. 

While the study didn't conclude why patients take their medications less due to changes in pill appearance, most survey respondents said they prefer a consistent pill appearance. 

The FDA requires generic drugs to have the same dosage form, strength, route of administration, intended use, quality and performance characteristics as their brand-name counterparts, but doesn't mandate that generics match brand-names in terms of physical appearance 

The researchers concluded that there are opportunities to improve patients' experiences with pill appearance through better notification practices and patient education. 

Find the full study here

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