By Destry Sulkes, MD
In many ways, 2011 was a landmark year for medical discovery and new therapies becoming available for patients. Thirty-four new molecular entities, or NMEs, were approved by the FDA – the most new prescription medicines launched in at least a decade.
At the same time, however, there were some troubling patient trends that led to a reduction in physician and medication access, and thus a “gap” in the health care offering. Specifically, patients made fewer visits to their physicians and also used prescription drugs less frequently in 2011 vs 2010. These were among the findings published in the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics’ report, “The Use of Medicines in the United States: Review of 2011.” (To read a statement from IMS on this report, click here.)
The number of office visits declined 4.7% last year, IMS reported. One common explanation for this decline is that the increasing costs of co-pays are reducing the frequency of doctor visits. In a timely fashion, new technologies are springing up to help address this “gap” in care. For example, “virtual” physician visits are available to patients for frequently-needed lab testing, so that the face to face office visits are more productive for both physicians and patients. That is, a patient can obtain a lab requisition, get the lab test, complete a symptom survey, and then see their physician in the office AFTER the results are ready or AFTER a symptom-tracker report is delivered.
Another interesting facet of this IMS data is that the five leading therapeutic areas where more and more patients need treatment – cancer, asthma/COPD, diabetes, dyslipidemia and bipolar – all need initial and ongoing monitoring of lab results and symptoms to optimize Rx decisions.
Overall, the year 2011 was “remarkable” for the number of scientific breakthroughs achieved, IMS noted, but this did not diminish the research firm’s concern over the drop in patients going to their doctors’ offices. “The implications of fewer doctor visits and lower drug utilization on patients’ health have yet to play out and require further study,” noted Michael Kleinrock, director of research development at the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics.
Among the key findings in the IMS report:
* Seniors age 65 and over reduced their volume of prescriptions.
* New generic drugs in several chronic disease areas contributed to higher usage, but a minimal increase in drug expenditures overall.
* First-time therapies became available to treat several types of cancer, multiple sclerosis, hepatitis C and cardiovascular conditions.
The IMS Institute report, The Use of Medicines in the United States: Review of 2011, including additional findings and details on methodology, is available at www.theimsinstitute.org.