Thursday, April 07, 2005

 

Petro's Rx tool has bad start

Jim Petro's always been long on style and short on substance. His staff have always been strong on combing Petro's hair but weak on combing through consumer data bases.

The latest case in point in Petro's newest campaign (for governor) gimmick, AG Rx, which is described as an "new interactive tool will provide price comparisons, tips and referrals to assist you in making informed choices about your prescriptions."

We tried it and found it to have a just-slapped-together feel and not real practical.

You first have to select one of about 10 regions of the state, but some of the regions are impractical because there is no way the covered areas are homogenous. Then you can only select from a list of 25 drugs. We first selected Ambien and the Columbus area and got prices from eight pharmacies. One store showed a price of $0.00! Another showed that one dose would cost $99.02. When we selected the Cleveland region looking for Ambien, we didn't run into the same data problems and got what looked like prices from 30 pharmacies. But, upon closer inspection we saw that 28 of the 30 were actually from the same chain, Discount Drug Mart, so there really only prices from three pharmacies.

In fact, the lack of a broad cross section of prices makes this site suck. Yes, Petro, you've gotten Sam's Club and Discount Drug Mart to participate, but where are the prices from big boys like CVS and Walgreens where a lot of the public shop? Don't you have the clout or charm to get them involved?

On a functional level, the site sucks because users have to go through too many screens to get the answers, and then can't easily back up and search for the prices on another drug.

But, enough of our bitching. Plain Dealer reporter Susan Jaffe also tried AG Rx and found an entirely different set of problems:
Attorney General Jim Petro's drug prices Web site launched this week was supposed to help consumers, not confuse them. But late Wednesday, Petro spokesman Mark Anthony acknowledged that the price information contained on the site was "inconsistent," after The Plain Dealer pointed out a few glitches.

The bestseller Lipitor, a cholesterol-lowering drug, doesn't come in 30-milligram doses - as the Web site showed - at any price. Bargain hunters will never find Furosemide, a diuretic, or Norvasc, which controls high blood pressure, in 30-milligram doses, either.

The painkiller Neurontin, comes in 100-, 300-, 400-, 600-, or 800-milligram doses, not the 90 listed.

And doctors would never tell patients to simply take "four pills" of Fosamax to treat osteoporosis -- the dosage listed on the site. The drug is prescribed in doses of 5, 10, 35, 40 or 70 milligrams, according to the manufacturer's prescribing information.

"The dosage amount got confused with the number of doses in some cases," Anthony said.

He wouldn't say how many of the 25 drugs listed were incorrect, only that the problems would be fixed by today.

The Web site, www.agrx.ag.state.oh.us, provides local cash prices at 200 pharmacies across Ohio for some of the most prescribed drugs. It failed to mention, however, that some prices may be for seniors only, or for members of a buying club, such as Sam's.
We take issue with Jaffe's claim of 200 pharmacies since it appears that at least one-half to three-quarters are part of chains.

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