Treatment gap: Women get fewer standard heart drugs

Women still aren't paid as much as men for the same job. Turns out they aren't prescribed the right drugs as often, either--unless you're talking about psychiatric drugs. In that case, women get more scripts than men do, according to a new study by Medco Health Solutions.

We could launch into a sociological/historical takedown of these discrepancies, citing, among other things, the epidemic of "hysteria" among women in the early 20th century and the modern-day overabundance of psych-drug ads in women's magazines, but we won't. Instead, we'll put this forth as an opportunity for drugmakers to add some bucks to their bottom lines. Women may be getting a disproportionate share of antidepressants and ADHD meds, but they're not getting their share of cardiovascular drugs, Medco found. And when women are prescribed drugs, they're more likely to fall out of compliance with their regimens than men are.

So, pharma might want to specifically target women with ads for statin drugs: Only 59% of women with serious cardiovascular disease are taking cholesterol meds; 72% of men in the same situation are. Drugmakers might also want to zero in on heart surgeons' prescribing habits: Only 63% of women took beta blockers after a heart attack, compared with 69% of men. And on the adherence side, the email messages and mobile apps designed to remind patients to take their meds might be tailored toward--and publicized to--women.

Of course, there are other reasons why women don't follow up with their meds, and herein lies another pharma opportunity. With some drugs, outcomes and side effects may simply be different in women, partly because older drug studies focused on men and partly because newer, gender-balanced studies don't necessarily break out the results by sex. "We need to emphasize more research on women from the very beginning of the drug discovery process," said Phyllis Greenberger, president of the Society for Women's Health Research, "as well as commit to understanding all the factors that affect her adherence to medications for the long-term."

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