Last week, IMS released their annual look at the pharmaceutical industry.  This is to me the single most interesting report I read every year mainly because the researchers always go well beyond just reporting the data.  They do what every good researcher should do and that is to find patterns and areas of significant change that should be carefully considered by those viewing the report.  As a pharmaceutical marketer, it is important that you go beyond the press release or New York Times articles and actually dig into the study itself.

Immediately after the release of the report each year, I set aside some time to review it  and see where it agrees with my working knowledge of our business and where it disagrees.  It is in the areas of disagreement that my real learning begins.  I also marvel at the new ways IMS is able to look at the data and I try to figure out how this could help my business as well.  Throughout the entire process my head begins pounding with all the questions I have about the data and I can hardly wait for the formal IMS presentation.

See to me, it is really all about the questions.  Here are a few that come to my mind after a quick look at this year’s report:

  • I look at the $320 million number and the caveat that it is based on “trade prices” and this may not consider all the discounts and rebates.  I would love to hear their estimate of the size of the industry that is the real “net” to the manufacturers if all the discounts were captured.
  • A similar question would be the value of vouchers or coupons that are paid to patients in order to attain the $320.  The report says just under 4% of claims used a coupons or voucher but this is close to 20% of all non-generic claims.
  • I love the “On-Therapy” chart (appendix 1) and would love to see this as a percent of those who actually have the disease.  Note that over 9 million people are taking anti-epileptics which is 3x the number of people with epilepsy, indicating perhaps both strong penetration and use for other indications such as pain.  It is also interesting how few people are actually taking a diabetes product relative to those with the disorder.
  • The huge increase in emergency room visits while other physician office visits were down even lower from last year’s down number continues a very concerning trend.  I would like to see what the total cost of this is to the system.  How closely is IMS measuring visits to retail clinics and other non-traditional offices?
  • The analysis of prescription use and growth by state should make marketers think about where and how they spend their promotional budgets.  I wonder how many companies take this data into consideration during their planning process?
  • I would love to dig into the issues as to why the elderly, with presumably very good drug coverage, dropped their usage by so much.  It is hard for me to believe they are getting healthier?
  • The generic number is also a concern as it reached 80% for the whole year.  What was this number in December?  Does this mean we will be closer to 85% generics for 2012, or even higher?  It is also interesting how high a percentage of prescriptions had co-pays of $10 or less.

Take the time to really study the report.  Compare it last year’s.  How does it compare to your internal data?  Ask questions.  The ability to ask the right questions at the right time may be one of the most profound skills of business leaders.  What do you think?

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