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June 15, 2021

Paying people to take their medicine

Mary Poppins notwithstanding, sometimes nothing helps the medicine go down. And when patients simply won't take their medication, it's a serious problem – not just for them, but for the health care system as well.

One-third to one-half of all patients do not take medication as prescribed, and up to one-quarter never fill prescriptions at all, reports the New York Times. And all that forgetfulness translates into a staggering toll on  already strained health care budgets.

That’s why doctors in Pennsylvania are exploring a new approach to try to improve compliance. The premise: Offering a bonus to help patients choke down their pills.

Patients prescribed warfarin, an anti-blood-clot medication, can win $10 or $100 each day they take the drug — a kind of lottery using a computerized pillbox to record if they took their medicine and whether they won that day.

Experts say the psychological effect is more important than the dollar amount, which is usually just enough to seem significant.

The project’s co-leaders, Dr. Kevin G. Volpp and Dr. Stephen E. Kimmel, say that patients win $90-a-month on average, which will pay for itself if it prevents even two emergency clinic visits.

Will longer-running lotteries produce more dedicated medicine-takers and potential long-term savings? Well, the jury is still out. But, if payments did continue indefinitely, “it wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing,” the researchers maintain.

What do you think? A reward for bad behaviour or a useful incentive to help patients look after themselves properly?

By Gordon Powers, MSN Money



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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...