Drugsearch.ca is a free search-engine website that shows the price of medications (brand and generic), whether a medication is covered by specific BC PharmaCare plans, and whether special authority is first needed for coverage. When special authority applies, links to the special authority criteria and application forms are provided. The search engine is refreshed monthly and syncs drug wholesaler pricing with the PharmaCare database.
I created this website, with the help of a local software developer, for several reasons. I once encountered a child with severe asthma whose parents had purchased only Ventolin, avoiding the steroid due to costs. I realized that if the prescriber had a rapid way to see which inhaled steroid was covered, the situation could have been averted. I am also frequently contacted by physician friends and colleagues asking for the prices of different medications because the PharmaCare formulary website does not show the full retail price, only how much the government would pay per dose. I have also found that most pharmacists and prescribers do not realize that costs only from covered medications count toward satisfying a patient’s annual deductible, meaning that the increased prescribing of noncovered medication actually hinders a patient from receiving PharmaCare assistance.
Drugsearch.ca allows a prescriber to search for and compare medications by brand or generic name, filter the search results by application (e.g., inhaled versus topical), and see the price that a patient would pay inclusive of pharmacy fees. The price takes into account whether the medication is covered by PharmaCare, and how much a patient would pay if it is covered. Drugsearch.ca results also show if a drug first requires special authority application to activate PharmaCare coverage, and has one-click links to the PharmaCare criteria page and application forms. An example search is shown in this [Figure]. The need for a fast way to show pharmacists and prescribers special authority availability arose after I encountered the case of an elderly pensioner who had paid nearly $2000 over a year for Entresto and did not receive PharmaCare assistance for his other medications. It was later found that the special authority had been missed by both pharmacists and prescribers, resulting in the Entresto drug costs not being applied toward his annual deductible, which needed to be met before PharmaCare coverage could begin. Unfortunately, BC PharmaCare policy does not permit retroactive reimbursement to the patient in these situations.
My hope is that patients, pharmacists, and prescribers can use drugsearch.ca to minimize patients’ financial burdens and reduce the amount of paperwork faxed to pharmacies requesting alternative covered medications.
—Anthony Chiam, RPh
Mr Anthony Chiam is a registered pharmacist working in North Vancouver. He is applying for a grant from the Ministry of Health for revenue to support the upkeep and cover host/server fees for the website. The website will not track or sell data; all users are anonymous. There will be no advertisements on the site. This post has been peer reviewed by the BCMJ Editorial Board.