Objectives We study the impact of the pharmacy dispensing channel (as a proxy for access to drugs) on the drug purchases, health outcomes, and health care utilization (emergency room visits or hospitalizations) of chronically ill patients in Liguria, Italy, in 2017. Methods We use the coarsened exact matching algorithm to compare the health outcomes for a treated group of patients living in a local health authority (LHA) where drug distribution through community pharmacies was restricted. These patients were matched to a control group of patients living in other LHAs, where drugs were also dispensed through a broad network of community pharmacies. We exploit a unique administrative dataset with information on the socio-demographic characteristics and health care services utilization of Ligurian patients with chronic cardiovascular and respiratory ailments. We restrict our analysis to patients 65 years of age or older who were admitted to hospitals from 2013 to 2016 with either a principal or secondary diagnosis connected to chronic cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. Results Reduced access to drugs leads to lowered drug consumption, a higher probability of adverse health outcomes including mortality, and a higher consumption of medical services in terms of hospitalizations and emergency room visits. These effects increase with patients’ age. Conclusion The pharmacy dispensing channel significantly affects drug consumption and acts as a proxy for adherence among chronically ill patients. Thus, health outcomes and health care utilization should be carefully evaluated when comparing the costs of alternative dispensing channels.
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