Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Pharmaceutical cost control in primary care: opinion and contributions by healthcare professionals

Alexandra Prados-Torres1, Amaia Calderón-Larrañaga1*, Antoni Sicras-Mainar2, Sebastià March-Llull3 and Bárbara Oliván-Blázquez1

Author Affiliations

1 Instituto Aragonés de Ciencias de la Salud, Avda Gómez Laguna 25, Pl 3a, 50009 Zaragoza, España

2 Badalona Servicios Asistenciales SA, C/Gayetà Soler, 6-8 Entresuelo, 08911 Badalona, Barcelona, España

3 Unidad de Investigación, Gerencia de Atención Primaria de Mallorca, Instituto Balear de la Salud, C/Reina Esclaramunda 9, 07003 Palma de Mallorca, Islas Baleares, España

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BMC Health Services Research 2009, 9:209  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-9-209

Published: 18 November 2009



Strategies adopted by health administrations and directed towards drug cost control in primary care (PC) can, according to earlier studies, generate tension between health administrators and healthcare professionals. This study collects and analyzes the opinions of general practitioners (GPs) regarding current cost control measures as well as their proposals for improving the effectiveness of these measures.


A qualitative exploratory study was carried out using 11 focus groups composed of GPs from the Spanish regions of Aragon, Catalonia and the Balearic Islands. A semi-structured guide was applied in obtaining the GPs' opinions. The transcripts of the dialogues were analyzed by two investigators who independently considered categorical and thematic content. The results were supervised by other members of the team, with overall responsibility assigned to the team leader.


GPs are conscious of their public responsibility with respect to pharmaceutical cost, but highlight the need to spread responsibility for cost control among the different actors of the health system. They insist on implementing measures to improve the quality of prescriptions, avoiding mere quantitative evaluations of prescription costs. They also suggest moving towards the self-management of the pharmaceutical budget by each health centre itself, as a means to design personalized incentives to improve their outcomes. These proposals need to be considered by the health administration in order to pre-empt the feelings of injustice, impotence, frustration and lack of motivation that currently exist among GPs as a result of the implemented measures.


Future investigations should be oriented toward strategies that involve GPs in the planning and management of drug cost control mechanisms. The proposals in this study may be considered by the health administration as a means to move toward the rational use of drugs while avoiding concerns about injustice and feelings of impotence on the part of the GPs, which can lead to lack of interest in and disaffection with the current measures.