National data on medication synchronization is lacking, finds GAO

Synchronizing multiple medication refills can make it easier for patients to take them as prescribed. However, limited information is available on how widely this practice has been adopted by pharmacists.

That’s the assessment of the Government Accountability Office, which examined the synchronization process whereby a pharmacist aligns the refill dates of two or more of a patient's medications to a single day.

“Most of the 22 studies we reviewed reported positive effects and one found the practice increasing,” states a GAO audit. “For example, a 2018 study reported a 3 percent improvement in medication adherence among patients using medication synchronization than those who were not.”

Nonetheless, auditors found that no comprehensive national data exist on the extent to which medication synchronization has been used or its potential effects. “Comprehensive data on its use by pharmacies and patients do not exist,” concludes the report.

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Officials from three retail pharmacy chains—two large national chains and one mid-size regional chain—one independent pharmacy, and one mail order pharmacy told auditors that they have increased their use of medication synchronization, but they could not provide GAO with data on their patients’ use of the practice over time.

“In addition, officials from an organization representing pharmacies told us that as of 2018, approximately 80 percent of independent pharmacies offered medication synchronization; however, they could not provide data from prior years,” revealed auditors.

Currently, 27 states have enacted laws related to medication synchronization, according to the National Community Pharmacists Association. Still, GAO noted that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services does not have a formal medication synchronization policy for Medicare.

“Medication adherence is particularly important for patients with one or more chronic conditions, such as diabetes, high cholesterol or hypertension,” states the report, which points out that tens of millions of Medicare beneficiaries have two or more chronic conditions.

According to agency officials interviewed by auditors, CMS does not have data on the effects of medication synchronization—such as patient medication adherence—and other healthcare stakeholders interviewed for the report indicated that such national data do not exist.

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