The $2.7 trillion spent on healthcare in the US is a real issue and every effort must be made to not only curb growth, as we are seeing, but to begin to cut the actual number down to what is more sustainable. Keep in mind we spend about twice on a per person basis than other developed countries and our outcomes are in the middle of the pack on most measures. Many would argue that there is systemic change needed and perhaps the Affordable Care Act and other health reform measures from both the public and private sectors might help. It may be worth taking some time to just see what could be improved even within the current system.
IMS Institute put out another “must read” report last week that looks at six areas where proper use of drugs could save over $200 billion or 8% of the overall health care costs in our country. Some of their thinking is a little unrealistic in terms of what can be done but they lay out a roadmap to at least make a major dent in the problem. While reading through the piece it might be a useful exercise to see exactly where we as pharmaceutical executives could help drive the change.
Over half the costs of drug misuse savings could come from the adherence area. Patients who do not take their drugs properly, miss doses and quit taking their medicines completely cost the country over $100 billion. These costs come from hospital admissions, emergency room visits and avoidable physician work. This problem is improving, according to the report, mainly because of the higher use of generics (lower cost) and some of the other tactics being deployed by pharmacies and others around this issue. The pharmaceutical industry already does significant work in this area but I wonder if even more could be done? How big a role does the cost of drugs really play here? Could cutting the cost lead to more starts, greater compliance and more profits in addition to saving the system huge amounts of money?
The second significant area pointed out in the study is the delayed initiation of evidence based treatments. How many people linger in that “touch of sugar” or “borderline” area or “let’s keep watching” stage when aggressive care should begin? Obviously, this is an area where the industry would benefit as drugs are the key to this care and the earlier they begin the more impact they would seem to have on the health of the patient and the overall costs to the system. This is an area like the one above that would help both the industry and the system, but it important to balance these with the other four areas.
Although not as financially significant, the report also talks about greater use of generics, even though over 85% of all prescriptions are now generics and 95% of all drugs that have generics are filled with the generics. There still is some upside there. The overuse of antibiotics, mismanaged poly-pharmacy and medication errors make up the other three categories studied as possible areas for improvement. The last four items discussed combine to make up just over a quarter of the potential savings. It wouldn’t hurt for the industry to work to improve these four areas at the same time as they are working on the other two just to show balance of effort.
When reading this piece, it is important to really look at your personal mission and your company’s mission. I bet there is mention of improving healthcare, helping patients and improving the delivery of care in our country. Maybe it is time to aggressively begin to work on some of these issues. How many have read this study and have discussed it within their company? That would be a good start, but it is important to begin turning this into action. Become part of the solution.