For Patients, Is the Economy a Bitter Pill

For Patients, Is the Economy a Bitter Pill

Melissa Davies

Several of our staff have touched on the economy in recent days. As consumers’ healthcare costs continue to climb, it seems natural that healthcare cannot be immune to the effects of the downturn that has our world reeling. The New York Times on Tuesday published an article about a trend in patients stopping certain medications because they can’t afford them. Other news sources have reported on various patient cost-saving measures, from splitting pills in half to taking a medication every other day instead of every day.

I wondered if we would see evidence of this trend in our own data. Actually, I assumed we would and wondered just how prominent this topic would be in the online discussion we measure. There is definitely discussion of medication and affordability taking place within the blogosphere, with entry titles like “One Pill Left” and “I cannot afford to get sick” and the simple, direct “uggh.”

But what surprised me in looking at the broader trend of this discussion is that there has not been much of an increase in these messages over the past six months, as our BlogPulse data show:

There is a general upward trend in discussion of medication affordability, but it isn’t the steep climb I expected to see – aside from a noticeable peak in discussion during the week ending September 27 (which was the same week that the Dow experienced a 5% drop for the week and President Bush gave a primetime TV address to present his case for his $700 billion economic bailout plan).

To test the theory further, I compared two different sets of results: one that focuses on messages about not being able to afford medication, and another that uses the same search terms but excludes political discussion in the form of any mentions of McCain, Obama, election, politics, the economic bailout, the Medicare gap, etc. Still, the trend holds: the increase in blog posts about medication affordability is slight, not steep, despite the impact of recent changes in the economy.

It may be the case that people are just overwhelmed by concerns about the economy, to the extent that many aren’t talking specifics yet. Blogosphere discussion of “economy” significantly outweighs “healthcare,” as the following data show:

Will the days ahead bring a shift in discussion, with more mentions of medication affordability or specific steps patients take to manage their personal health and economic situation? Only time will tell, but it’s a trend worth watching.