Prescription Consumption At Historic Low, Doctors Worry


Americans are putting more emphasis on their pocketbooks than their health, according to a new report from the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics. National consumption of prescription medications grew at a historically low rate in 2010, representing an overall decrease in consumption of oral and nasal drugs on a per capita basis. Doctors are worried that this decline is due to Americans saving money, at the cost of necessary medical treatments.

The report released today showed that there was a 2.3 percent increase in spending in 2010 on prescription drugs compared to 5.1 percent in 2009. However, the total spending was $307.4 billion, maintaining its position as the world's biggest market.

Why Americans Are Not Taking their Medications

This decline in prescription use has doctors concerned that their patients are not receiving or following through on necessary treatments for medical conditions. In their press release, the IMS identifies several different reasons why they believe prescription consumption has dwindled.

Michael Kleinrock, director of Research Development at the IMS explained, “Last year, we saw the convergence of key dynamics leading to diminished growth in drug spending, which included the greater use of generics, loss of patent protection for major branded products, slower demand and less spending on new therapies. Moreover, fewer patients visited physician offices and initiated new chronic therapy treatments last year, likely the result of the slower economy.”


In 2010 there was a 4.2 percent decrease in the amount of doctors visits, significantly lower than in previous years. Furthermore, the total number of patients beginning treatment for chronic conditions (ie: hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, etc.) declined by 3.4 million.

"People just aren't using health-care like they have," said Wayne DeVeydt, WellPoint Inc.'s chief financial officer, told the Wall Street Journal last year. "Utilization is lower than we expected, and it's unusual."

Other contributing factors to this decline in prescription drug use can also be attributed to the fact that third-party payers, such as insurance companies, have become more stringent on the type and the amount of prescriptions they will reimburse for, leaving consumers to foot the bill for many necessary drug therapies. In fact, third-party reimbursement for prescriptions has decreased from 66 percent to 63 percent over the last five years.

“It became apparent in 2010 that the healthcare landscape is shifting in significant ways.” said Kleinrock. “Physicians and patients have more therapy options than ever, and yet spending on medicines is rising at historic lows with the impact of patent expiries and reduced patient activity. The long-term effect on patient health of fewer doctor office visits and new therapy starts is unclear and requires closer attention.”

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