A Shift in Patient Sentiment, Safety, and Willingness to Pay
As pandemic restrictions hit nearly every corner of the globe, entire industries were devastated overnight. A side-effect of the sweeping shutdowns was pervasive job loss and fear. America hit its highest levels of unemployment in decades, and is still facing an unemployment rate of more than 10% (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2020). The combination of unemployment and uncertainty about the future contributed to our economy taking a nosedive, with hundreds of companies filing for bankruptcy protection, and many more closing for good. People across the country faced financial hardships, and became more cost-conscious than ever before. The Bureau of Economic Analysis released data that showed a massive 18% decrease in consumer healthcare spending in particular across the first half of this year (Bureau of Economic Analysis, 2020). Billions of dollars stopped flowing into our healthcare system nearly overnight, and people were thinking more critically about how they allocated their money toward care. PwC released a report and took this research one step further. They discovered that 22% of people surveyed were planning to adjust their prescription drug spending this year, with upwards of 29% of respondents saying they are looking to ‘stretch’ their medications by skipping doses to save money (PwC Health Research Institute, 2020). To put it simply, people are beginning to put their health at risk in order to save money in the near-term.
Not only are patients rethinking their healthcare budgets this year, especially when it comes to prescription drug spending, but they are also reassessing care delivery altogether. At the height of the pandemic, ambulatory and outpatient visits dropped nearly 60% compared to baseline levels (and are still below normal levels). With lockdowns keeping people at home, most elective visits were cancelled. However, as the country began to open up, patients were, and still are, afraid of going into the doctor’s office to receive care. Personal safety and fear of infection have been prevalent themes in recent reports. In a recent Gallup survey for example, more than 40% of those surveyed were ‘very concerned’ to go to a doctor’s office because of the safety risk (Gallup, 2020). This has led to a drastic shift toward virtual care, which many expect is here to stay.
Shifts in Prescribing Trends This Year
While cost and safety concerns have caused decreases in patient volumes since the height of the pandemic, prescription volumes have followed a much different path.
Data from RxRevu client health systems shows significant increases in certain medication class orders earlier this year. For example, orders for chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine spiked by 125% and 90% respectively in March of this year. These jumps in prescription orders in our data align with more widely publicized reports from the New York Times, which claim that nationwide publicity of these medications have caused spikes in requests, even though there was limited evidence to support their effectiveness. As seen in Figure 1 below, orders for these medications leveled off across the rest of the half, which aligned with a 77% decrease in media mentions of these drugs on certain news networks (CNN, 2020). Albuterol, a medication meant to help with shortness of breath, also saw an increase in orders of around 50%, likely due to its ability to treat COVID-19 symptoms.