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Product standardisation as a tool to control prescribing costs – a case study of alginate liquid preparations



Professor James Charles McElnay, School of Pharmacy, Queens University of Belfast, 97 Lisburn Road, Belfast BT7 1PT, UK.




Product standardisation involves promoting the prescribing of pre-selected products within a particular category across a healthcare region and is designed to improve patient safety by promoting continuity of medicine use across the primary/secondary care interface, in addition to cost containment without compromising clinical care (i.e. maintaining safety and efficacy).


To examine the impact of product standardisation on the prescribing of compound alginate preparations within primary care in Northern Ireland.


Data were obtained on alginate prescribing from the Northern Ireland Central Services Agency (Prescription Pricing Branch), covering a period of 43 months. Two standardisation promotion interventions were carried out at months 18 and 33. In addition to conventional statistical analyses, a simple interrupted time series analysis approach, using graphical interpretation, was used to facilitate interpretation of the data.


There was a significant increase in the prescribed share of the preferred alginate product in each of the four health boards in Northern Ireland and a decrease in the cost per Defined Daily Dose for alginate liquid preparations overall. Compliance with the standardisation policy was, however, incomplete and was influenced to a marked degree by the activities of the pharmaceutical industry. The overall economic impact of the prescribing changes during the study was small (3.1%).


The findings suggested that product standardisation significantly influenced the prescribing pattern for compound alginate liquid preparations within primary care across Northern Ireland.