Impact of Income and Education on Drug Purchasing Decisions in Hong Kong Chinese Cancer Patients: a Pilot Study


Background: The affordability of diagnostic, preventive and therapeutic interventions is a global concern, particularly in the developing world. To clarify the educational and financial factors that influence purchasing decisions, we conducted a survey of Hong Kong cancer patients across a broad social spectrum.
Methods: A questionnaire was designed to assess the effect of costs on purchasing decisions relating to six drug-related variables: efficacy, tolerability, convenience, safety, peer pressure, and uncertainty. Validation of the original 31-part survey resulted in a final set of 22 core questions that was administered to 51 consecutive oncology patients who were characterised in terms of varying household income and educational level.
Results: Most respondents (87.6%) were Hong Kong-born or mainland Chinese. There was a strong correlation between household income and education. Demand for drug tolerability and safety was high and cost-inelastic across all educational and income groups. An unexpected finding was that patients from low-income/education households were keen to purchase costly medications (whether Western, or Chinese herbs) of reputed high efficacy, whereas patients from middle-income/-education backgrounds were more influenced by considerations of unreimbursed cost. Only the most affluent and well-educated patients valued overall survival above disease-free survival when making drug purchasing decisions; this cohort was also the least influenced by peer pressure, and the most willing to pay extra for drugs offering more convenience alone.
Conclusion: Low-income/education Asian patients had paradoxically high expectations of costly drug interventions. Although larger studies addressing this issue are needed to confirm these conclusions, public education initiatives aimed at protecting low-income/education patients from exploitation or disappointment may be desirable.