People with high cholesterol who take statins regularly have significantly fewer hospital admissions related to cardiovascular problems and can reduce their health care costs by as much as $944 over 18 months, says a new US study.

Improving adherence to statins could save the US billions of health care dollars a year, according to the research, which was conducted by pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) Medco's Research Institute to examine the financial impact of patient adherence to statins, which are prescribed to help reduce high cholesterol levels.

The study, which looked at data for 381,000 patients aged 18-61, found that those who took their medications regularly had significantly lower odds of cardiovascular-related hospital admissions compared to those who did not adhere to their regimen. Moreover, the health care costs for patients who were least compliant with their medications were 9% higher than those for the patients who followed their prescribed treatment regimen, and while those who took their statins regularly had higher drug costs, these were offset by lower medical expenditures, leading to reduced total health care costs.

"It’s important for patients to understand that taking statins as prescribed does more than simply lower cholesterol - they help lower the patient's risk of heart attack and stroke. And now, as this study suggests, their health costs could be lower too," said report co-author JoAnne Foody, who is medical director of the cardiovascular wellness programme at Brigham and Women's Hospital.

“We found that nearly one in three patients had poor adherence to their statin therapy, something that patients and their physicians can work together to improve and potentially save the health care system billions of dollars annually," added Donald Pittman, lead author of the study and national practice leader for the Medco Cardiovascular Therapeutic Resource Center.

Very common reasons for non-adherence to medication regimens include a lack of symptoms associated with high cholesterol, side effects of the medications and the treatments’ costs, noted Dr Pittman.

Patients in the study, who had an average age of 53 and were 59% male, had a range of co-morbidities including high blood pressure (52.1%), coronary artery disease (15.2%), diabetes (25.4%) and depression (8.6%).

Those who adhered to their statin therapy (ie, taking the medications 90% or more of the time) had total health care costs of $10,162 compared with $11,106 for the group of patients who were poorly adherent - a difference of $944 over the 18-month study period. However, the most adherent patients spent $3,523 on their medications compared to $3,392 for the patients with an adherence rate of less than 60%, the researchers found.