Patients can get independent information on drugs from:
Cost and Number of Prescriptions, in Each State, from Each Doctor
You can find the number of drug prescriptions and costs in at least 2 places, described below. Both use Medicare data; prices can be somewhat different for patients with other insurance or none.
ProPublica has Medicare Part D cost for each drug: number of prescriptions and total spending. You can get separate totals for US and each state, so you can get average cost per prescription, and for each doctor who prescribed a drug 50 or more times in 2013.
Medicare itself has more complete Part D data. The US and state summary files (bottom of the link) show for each drug: the number of beneficiaries as well as prescriptions and spending, so you can get average per beneficiary (total during a year), as well as per prescription for each drug.
Medicare's detailed files show number of days prescribed, so you can get average cost of a daily dose, as well as each doctor who prescribed a drug 11 or more times in 2013. This info is in 23 million records, without state or US summaries. However you can get good state and national estimates by opening any of their 36 spreadsheets (divided by last name of prescriber) and getting averages there. The average costs do not vary much by last name of prescriber. (Tips for working with large spreadsheets)
Some doctors and drugs typically have 30-day or 90-day prescriptions, which may be renewed all year. Their averages include the cost for each whole long prescription (30 or 90 days). Docs & drugs with shorter prescriptions only include that lower cost. Medicare's focus seems to be on cutting total costs, not cost per dose.
ProPublica's methodology says it has "retail cost" for these prescriptions.
Medicare's fact sheet gives more detail, saying it includes,
I'd be happy to hear of other sources, especially for younger patients.
After seeing which drugs a doctor prescribes, you can find drug safety and effectiveness from the sources at the top of the page.
Most doctors send prescriptions to pharmacies electronically. This is more reliable than hand-written faxes, but two problems stand out:
Cancellation orders are crucial to correct mistakes and cancel refills. Patients can overdose when they keep getting the old medicine after the doctor orders a new one. Only a third of prescribers and 40% of pharmacies use software certified to handle cancellations, so less than a third of cancellations can go through. "Electronic health records allow prescribers to stop a prescription, but what many physicians may not realize is that in most cases that directive is not sent to any pharmacy," even though original prescriptions are reliably sent.
Health systems like the Veterans Health Administration and Kaiser Permanente, where prescriber and pharmacy are in the same organization, can cancel electronically. Otherwise only 5 pharmacy chains accept e-cancellations:
No other chain is certified for e-cancellation, such as Walgreens (16% of US prescriptions) and Walmart (7%). Consumer Reports unfortunately recommends Costco and Sam's Club for price (uncertified), Walgreens for its apps (uncertified), and supermarket chains for convenience (only Kroger's is certified). CR should know better.
Doctors can cancel electronically only if their software is certified under "Cancel Rx". Out of 920 systems, only 80 are marked as certified, and usually only the latest updates. If your doctor is part of a large group, you can ask the group to ensure its software gets certified and updated. Individual doctors have little control.
Automatic refills are even more dangerous. When pharmacies call patients to say, "Your prescription is ready," patients and callers do not know whether the doctor recently ordered it or it is a zombie renewal. Costco, CVS, RiteAid and Walgreens encourage patients to sign up for automatic refills, so patients at Costco and Walgreens (two which lack e-cancellations) can get undesired medicine for long periods, thinking their doctor ordered it.
Direct Payments which doctors get from major medical companies (Medicare's site) and drug companies (ProPublica's site) show which doctors have strong bonds with the companies. Patients need to decide if these affect their care. The sites do not reveal profits from doctors' own businesses. Consumer Reports says that when a doctor orders X-rays or other scans, "ask whether he is financially affiliated with" the radiology clinic, since "studies have found that physicians who own scanners or are part owners of radiology clinics use imaging substantially more than others."
Nurses also get payments and meals from drug companies, but only Massachusetts tracks these payments.
Drug companies also have constant access to doctors and give them biased information. A 2012 summary found (emphasis in the original):
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mostly from Medicare, so
you can decide.
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