The preliminary results of a pilot project involving a large, self-funded employer and a new mobile application, myDrugCosts, show that 42% of employees who used the voluntary benefit reported saving money on their prescription drug costs.

MyDrugCosts was launched in the fall of 2011 for the 1,600 U.S.-based employees at Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics, a global shipping company that primarily ships cars, trucks, heavy equipment and other specialized cargo. Over the course of four months, 18% of employees with email signed up for the service.

MyDrugCosts is a software-as-a-service platform that puts prescription drug plan information in the hands of employees, via their desktop or smartphone. The tool is populated with information about the employer's specific drug plan, as well as drug information from the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Users enter the name of a particular drug in the search engine and can then review the alternatives - lower cost drugs or generics, for example - that are suggested.

Users can even click on a link to Google maps that shows the nearest retail pharmacies (based on the zip code entered by the user during the registration process) that carry the drug.

The patient's cost per month for each alternative is shown, as well as the copay and tier information for the drug. It's also customized so that if an employee clicks on the company logo within myDrugCosts it will link back to the company's benefits portal.

"I am happy with what I've seen in the four months and could see how, over the course of a year, it will be more meaningful," says Ricardo Rojas, senior manager of compensation and benefits with WWL.


Conversation between patient and doctor

Employees can use the tool to look up prescription drugs they're currently taking to see if there are any cost saving opportunities and they can also use it when they're with their physician to discuss costs for new prescriptions.

"It's really a conversation between the patient and the doctor," says Dan Pollard, founder and CEO of myDrugCosts, Inc. "All we're doing is telling you: 'Here's something with a lower price point.'"

Among employees at WWL who signed up for the service, 76% of them viewed 177 different drugs over the four-month pilot period. Twenty-eight percent found lower-cost drugs, and 28% found generics for brand name drugs; 42% of users reported saving money.

Based on a survey of 54 employees who used myDrugCosts, 71% would recommend the service. Most users (85%) accessed myDrugCosts through their PC browser. The remaining 15% used their smartphone.

Most employees (75%) used the tool once during the four-month study period, with the remaining 25% using it two or more times. The most common pattern was to sign up and review existing drugs.

"This comes down to putting gas in my car, food on my table or purchasing medication," said one employee who reported saving about $300 a year. "If you don't use this service you are crazy."

Among those who used the service, 50% reported feeling more informed about their prescription drug benefits and options.

"Formularies aren't engaging, and this tool improves communication," says Pollard.

Based on the survey of 54 employees, estimated savings for employees range from $49 to $82 per myDrugCosts user per year. Company savings, based on current cost sharing, are estimated to range between $174 and $366 per user per year.

But even beyond the cost savings for WWL, Rojas sees great potential for myDrugCosts as a communication tool.

"As much as it is a tool for saving the company money, to me that platform and the power of being able to [possibly] bring up some pop-ups or the ability to communicate with the employee - to me, that's where the strength lies in the tool," he says. "I see so many things that could potentially come from that."


Employees want information this way

MyDrugCosts dovetailed nicely with other efforts WWL is making on the technology front. When he meets with employees, Rojas often hears that many of them have smartphones and want to receive company information that way.

"We're listening to what our employees are saying and for me to get the right messages out, I needed to make sure we had the right communication channels, and not just an email or written [materials]," he says. "We want them to be able to use the [benefit] portal for online enrollment with their smartphone. We're working toward that. MyDrugCosts fit right in to what we were trying to do."

WWL launched myDrugCosts through written communications initially, but what really got the ball rolling was a health and wellness fair the company hosted. It invited all its health and wellness vendors - medical carrier, dental carrier, myDrugCosts, employee assistance provider and others - to showcase not only their offerings, but how they were using technology to benefit employees.

"Our focus was not only what we were providing as a company, but how they could access that information," says Rojas. "We had people using their smartphones right there; they could see how easy it was."

MyDrugCosts uses a subscription payment model and charges on a per employee per month basis.

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