Smartphones changing how we take our drugs

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Smartphones changing how we take our drugs

Smartphone apps are changing the way we take our medicine.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare, together with the National Health Insurance Corporation, the Health Insurance Review and Assessment Service, the Korea National Council of Consumer Organization and the Korea Organization for Patient Group announced that there’s a “smarter way to take drugs.”

By using a smartphone application, consumers will be able to know everything about the medicine they are taking, including prices, upon typing in the name of the drug.

The app, titled “Health Information” in Korean, even suggests a list of alternative medicines with the same makeup but at cheaper prices to allow consumers to “smartly select and purchase drugs of their choice.” (There are also various apps that provide similar functions in English.)

According to the Health Ministry, the consumption of pharmaceutical drugs has increased every year, which in turn, has increased the financial burden on the country’s health insurance as the cost of drugs has increased by 13.2 percent from 2001 to 2010.

“The application was developed as an attempt to prevent excessive and superfluous consumption of medicine, as well as to inform consumers everything about the drugs that they may take or have been taking including efficacy, price and the names of other medicine that could be taken alternatively,” said Kim Han-jeong an official from the Health and Insurance Review and Assessment Service, insisting that “so far, consumers haven’t been well informed about the drugs they are taking and could only find out about the price after making the purchase.”

From now on, if patients want to save on their medication expenses, he or she can use the smartphone application to find what other alternative drugs can be taken instead and request a pharmacist to provide them with cheaper ones.

About 13,800 different drugs, which are nearly all the insured drugs in Korea, are registered in the application, according to the Health Ministry. The ministry said all drugs have gone through bioequivalence tests to determine which drugs are interchangeable.

However, medical doctors voiced concerns that “not all drugs with the same components work the same in all patients.”

Kim Il-joong, president of the Korean Doctors Organization said, “Problems may occur if patients switch to other medications on their own just to save 20 to 30 won per pill.”

Lee Won-pyo, president of the Korean Physicians’ Association also said, “Bioequivalence tests can’t certify 100 percent that it would have the exact same efficacy on patients and especially in Korea as such tests are not done properly at all times.”

Lee also added that “if there’s a cheaper medicine with the exact same efficacy in the market, the price should be changed to be the same.”

According to an October survey conducted by the Health and Insurance Review & Assessment Service, 64.7 percent of 1,000 people aged over 20 across the country said they would be willing to purchase cheaper alternative drugs if they worked the same.

Some also said that since there’s not much difference between the prices, they will just follow the doctor’s prescriptions.

By Yim Seung-hye [sharon@joongang.co.kr]

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