Premera’s Brown Paper Bags Mark 10 Years of Boosting Patient Safety

  • More Than a Decade Later, Simple Fix Continues to Make a Difference

    MOUNTLAKE TRRACE, WA - (October 19, 2011) - On the 10th anniversary of its nationally-recognized “Polypharmacy” brown bag medication review program, Premera Blue Cross is reminding everyone to review all of their medications – prescriptions, over-the-counter, vitamins and supplements – with their primary care physician. Even in today’s complex and technology-driven healthcare environment, this simple activity remains an effective patient safety and cost-saving tool. This is validated by the enduring success of the brown bag program, which Premera originated with its members a decade ago.

    “The brown bag program remains relevant in this day and age because it brings intervention to the most effective point in the healthcare system – the conversation between the patient and the physician,” said Ed Wong, PharmD, FASHP, vice president, program development, operations and pharmacy at Premera Blue Cross. “It also emphasizes the importance of reviewing of all types of medications, including over-the-counter and supplements, which are not often discussed with physicians.”

    While it revolves around providing members with a simple paper bag to bring their medications to the doctor’s office, the program is included as part of a more sophisticated effort to reach out to those members who are at the greatest risk for medication errors – those who take five or more medications for chronic conditions. Since the launch of the program in 2001, more than 166,000 of Premera members aged 19 or over who fit this criteria have been targeted to participate in the program.

    A recent survey of program participants indicates that the “Polypharmacy” program has encouraged dramatic change in members’ medication usage. After filling the Premera-provided brown paper bags with their current medications and discussing the contents with their physician, surveyed members reported the following changes: 29 percent had a medication change, 73 percent had their dosage changed and 63 percent stopped taking one or more medications.1 Wong explained, “This can be an eye opening experience for both patients and their doctors. We know of many instances where a dangerous drug combination has been revealed due to this simple review process.”

    As part of the education members receive through the program, each individual is mailed information explaining that they are at increased risk for medication-related problems and are encouraged to review all of their medications with their healthcare provider. Included with the brochure is a medication log, which enables members to log their medication usage and activity, and a brown bag for members to carry all their prescription, over-the-counter and herbal medications to an appointment with their healthcare provider.

    “While we rely on much more than just a paper bag to prevent medication errors today, this simple approach continues to have a place,” Wong said. “It engages members directly by helping them understand how medications work and ultimately empowers them to play a more active role in their own healthcare.”

    1 Source for survey statistics: December 2010 Survey of Premera members participating in Polypharmacy program.

    About Premera Blue Cross

    Our mission is to provide peace of mind to our members about their healthcare coverage. We provide health plans and related services to more than 1.6 million people. Premera Blue Cross has operated in Washington since 1933, and Alaska since 1952. Premera Blue Cross is a not-for-profit, independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association. Premera Blue Cross is a member of a family of companies based in Mountlake Terrace, Washington that provide health, life, vision, dental, stop-loss, disability, and other related products and services.