As drug costs continue to rise, pharmacists across the U.S. rise to the challenge of coming up with clinically effective ways to contain costs.
But first, why are costs going up in the first place?
“There’s been a lot of drug innovation and research for the past ten years that has benefitted patients,” says Neal Dave, Executive Director of Pharmacy at Texas Oncology. “Due to these breakthroughs, cancer patients have more treatments available than ever before. But these newer medications have different side effects from traditional chemotherapy. With proper management, patients can stay on therapy longer than before. Even though these treatments are amazing, the cost is going to go up because of the research it took to bring these products to market.”
Texas Oncology has a long history of providing value-based care to patients. Dave works closely with physician leadership, fellow pharmacists and a full care team on an effective drug cost containment strategy. Here are a few strategies the team implemented:
- Dose rounding: A whitepaper examined the dosing of monoclonal antibodies. For example, if a drug vial contains 100 milligrams and a patient’s dose is calculated at 108 milligrams, researchers found these monoclonal antibodies have a wide therapeutic index, which means that eight milligrams won’t make any clinical difference. If a patient had a prescription for 108 milligrams, the pharmacist would use two vials and throw away the rest of the 92 milligrams because it can’t be used on another patient. This created a lot of waste. “After instituting a dose rounding policy, we evaluated how much waste we were avoiding just by rounding down to the nearest vial size,” Dave says. “It is approximately $1 million per month for just our Medicare patients. Texas Oncology uses a dose rounding strategy if the medication has a wide therapeutic index for over five years.”
- Dose banding: Texas Oncology does a similar strategy when the dosing is based on a patient’s weight. Typically, immunotherapy drugs are based on weight, but drug company research showed that you can do a flat dose basis and get the same result for a patient. Although flat dosing is a great idea, patients that have a lower-weight can be given a lower dose based on their weight, as compared to the flat dose. This saves using an additional vial for lower-weight patients, without affecting any clinical outcomes.
- Therapeutic interchange: This is when you can offer a patient an alternative medication that’s just as effective as the original, but at a lower cost. An example is in bone health where two different classes of medications have the same clinical efficacy, except one of them is generic and is 1/10th of the cost compared to the other. Texas Oncology’s protocol, where appropriate, allows pharmacists to substitute for the lower-cost product.
- Biosimilar: Texas Oncology adopted biosimilars early and was able to show a savings of $4 million in one month alone after the adoption of biosimilars, which were originally launched for bevacizumab, trastuzumab and rituximab.
Having a cost containment strategy that your leadership supports is key. Getting the infrastructure of pharmacists, leadership and doctors together is what makes it successful.
“We have a pharmacy and therapeutics committee that meets regularly to discuss value-based care options for patients and discusses where we can have the most impact,” Dave says. “We have a team of pharmacists who are dedicated to cost-saving initiatives.”
For example, Dave says pharmacists can take the lead and build some of these cost-saving ideas into their EMR for dose rounding or therapeutic interchanges.
“A lot of times, providers aren’t aware of how much the drugs costs,” Dave says. “They’ll know they can be expensive, but don’t see the cost-saving differences among drugs in the same class.
Dave wants other pharmacists to know that providing quality care and reducing costs is possible.
“These are areas where we’ve cut down on costs significantly,” Dave says. “If you look for areas where you can make a difference, you’ll find them.”