Compliance with medical therapy is often compromised because patients cannot afford to pay for medications. Inadequate physician knowledge of drug costs may unwittingly contribute to this problem.
To measure attitudes about prescribing and knowledge of medication costs and compare differences among attending physicians and residents.
Written survey of internal medicine house staff and general medicine attending physicians in an urban hospital-based primary care center.
One hundred thirty-four of 189 physicians responded (71% response rate). Seventy percent of respondents were house officers and 30% were attending physicians. Eighty-eight percent of physicians felt the cost of medicines was an important consideration in the prescribing decision, and 71% were willing to sacrifice some degree of efficacy to make drugs more affordable for their patients. However, 80% often felt unaware of the actual costs. Only 33% had easy access to drug cost data, and only 13% had been formally educated about drug costs. Regarding insurance coverage, 94% of physicians gave strong consideration to the cost of medications when patients were self-paying, 68% when patients had Medicare, and 30% when patients had Medicaid or were participants in a health maintenance organization with a prescription plan. Physicians' estimates of the cost of a month's supply of 33 commonly used medications were accurate in 45% of cases, too low for 40%, and too high for 15%. The costs of brand-name and expensive drugs were most likely to be underestimated. House officers were less cost-conscious than attending physicians.
Physicians were predisposed to being cost-conscious in their prescribing habits, but lacked accurate knowledge about actual costs and insurance coverage of drugs. Interventions are needed to educate physicians about drug costs and provide them with reliable, easily accessible cost information in real-world practice.