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DrugDigest

By David Mendosa

Last Modified On: August 15, 2002

You might have several reasons to compare a drug that you take with alternatives in the same class. But I know of only one site that has that information.

You might want to take medicine that works better or doesn't have the troubling side effects that your current medication has. Maybe you need to get a prescription for medicine that doesn't interact with something else you're taking.

“My health is primarily my responsibility.”

These are excellent reasons to make drug comparisons, and not the only ones. Like most people with diabetes, my cholesterol is too high. Just a few days ago I wanted to find an alternative to the drug that I take to control it, because my current prescription is not in the formulary of my new health insurance plan. I take one of the statins, and I know that there are several other drugs in this class that are in the formulary and would therefore be less expensive.

So I turned to DrugDigest for guidance. This site has most everything that you want to know about drugs. For me it had a couple of great tables comparing the statins, including three alternatives. Now I am armed with the information I need for my next appointment with my doctor.

Why not just tell my doctor that I would like him to prescribe a less expensive medicine? Why not let him decide?

The reason is probably because I have diabetes. This condition makes me accept the fact that my health is primarily my responsibility.

It's called consumer empowerment, and it's a radical new concept for many healthcare providers. Since I had never heard of empowering the consumer in terms of drugs before, I asked Guy Jacobs about it when I talked with him a few days ago. Guy is the editorial director for the eBusiness department of Express Scripts Inc., which sponsors this site.

"When I came on board about three years ago I had conversation with our CEO, Barrett Toan, about where he wanted to go with this information," Guy says. "And part of his driving factor was to help empower people to understand what drugs can do for them so they can be better educated and make informed decisions. So we tried to construct DrugDigest to help do that."

The site also helps us to decide if a generic drug might be a better alternative and whether taking advantage of mail order might make sense for us. For Express Scripts too these are important considerations.

Express Scripts is the country's third largest pharmacy benefit management company and the second biggest mail order pharmacy, according to a cover story last year in St. Louis Commerce Magazine, the city where Express Scripts is based. It shipped more than 20 million prescriptions last year with a value of $2.5 billion. But about 85 percent of the prescriptions it fills for its more than 40 million members go through its retail network of about 55,000 pharmacies.

Unlike its major rivals, Express Scripts is not owned by a drug manufacturer or retailer, which gives it wider purchasing options. "We pride ourselves that we don't provide any advertising on DrugDigest," Guy says. "We do provide a link to Express Scripts so members may be aware of other benefits that they have. Other than that we try to be as impartial as possible, and we try to reference all our material so we are as unbiased as we possibly can be. That's one of the reasons why we have a relationship with the St. Louis College of Pharmacy."

Licensed doctors of pharmacy from that college and medical editors write and review the materials on the site to ensure accuracy and timeliness. The best parts of the site are the drug comparisons and drug interactions areas, says Shelly Enders, D.Ph., of the St. Louis College of Pharmacy and a consultant to DrugDigest. "We spend a lot of time on our comparisons and that is what is the most in depth," Shelly says.

The site also includes monographs about individual drugs and news about existing and emerging drugs. The only other questions I have about drugs are how much they cost and what they look like, which can sometimes be helpful in identifying ones you have.

While Express Scripts members can check prices at that site, drug costs are not a part of DrugDigest. But pictures may be coming. Guy says that they are considering whether to include pictures of the pills on the site. DrugDigest is already the most complete drug site, and that should make it even better. 


The American Diabetes Association originally published this article on its Web site as one of my “About the Internet” columns.


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