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Study: Pharmacy rewards drive healthy patient behavior

In the past few years, there has been much debate in Canada about the ethics of offering loyalty rewards on prescription medication purchases - with the College of Pharmacists in both Alberta and British Columbia even going so far as to ban pharmacists from offering loyalty incentives for prescriptions in those provinces. The provincial Supreme Court in B.C. upheld the ban despite protests from businesses such as Sobey's and Air Miles - and now British Columbian consumers can no longer earns reward points on those purchases. A new study out of the University of Alberta, however, reveals that pharmacy rewards do have at least one beneficial effect - they encourage pharmacy patients to continue taking prescribed medications.
By Rick Ferguson
Last year, we wrote that we were opposed to the ban:
"By declining to hear the appeal, the Supreme Court has cemented the ban on pharmacy rewards in British Columbia. We remain sympathetic to Sobeys' position - there is ample evidence to support the idea that the data collection from pharmacy reward programs can actually be beneficial to consumers - but we're confident that Canadian pharmacy retailers will find other ways to recognise and reward best customers."
And now here comes a new University of Alberta research study published in the Annals of Pharacotherapy that reveals patients offered loyalty incentives from Air Miles, Shoppers Drug Mart's Shoppers Optimum points, or other loyalty rewards were 12 percent more likely to stay on their medication. Money quote from the Calgary Herald:
"Researchers looked at Alberta Health data on 160,000 Albertans who took drugs for diabetes (metformin) and high cholesterol (statins) between 2008 and 2014, Scot Simpson, a professor in the faculty of pharmacy and pharmaceutical sciences who led the research, said Friday.
"People with high cholesterol who used pharmacies offering Air Miles, Shoppers Optimum or other programs were 12 per cent less likely to stop taking their medication... The findings were similar for patients on the diabetes drugs.
"'(The study) points in the direction that we shouldn't just say a blanket "no" to inducement programs,' Simpson said. 'We should think "Is there a better way to use these at the level of the patient?" There seems to be something there... about a benefit to patients, because they're sticking to their medications.'"
We couldn't agree more. Pharmacy patient data collected through the opt-in mechanism of loyalty reward programs has provided demonstrable patient benefits over the years: for example, alerting patients when an over-the-counter medication purchase might cause an unfavorable reaction with prescription medication; encouraging patients to stay on their medications, as the University of Alberta study indicates; and even proactively rewarding patients for such activities as getting regular checkups and taking flu shots. 
The keys to success are transparency in data collection and use, opt-in consumer permission, and rigorous oversight of patient privacy. Well-conceived and executed, pharmacy reward programs can be a prime example of companies doing well by doing good.
Rick Ferguson is CEO and Editor in Chief of the Wise Marketer Group.