Personal diagnostics category continues to expand

November 20, 2008

According to Information Resources, Inc. (IRI), the at-home testing kits segment generated over $41 million in food, drug, and mass outlets (excluding Walmart) during the 52 weeks ending October 5, 2008 and has seen a 6 percent increase in sales from just one year earlier.

Personal Diagnostics is an evolving category that includes home blood pressure monitors, thermometers, and a plethora of at-home testing kits. These days, consumers can test everything from their cholesterol levels to their child’s paternity, all from the comfort of their own homes.

As technology advances and patients become more interested in managing their health, this category continues to grow. According to Information Resources, Inc. (IRI), the at-home testing kits segment generated over $41 million in food, drug, and mass outlets (excluding Walmart) during the 52 weeks ending Oct. 5, 2008 and has seen a 6 percent increase in sales from just one year earlier.

The personal thermometers segment generated over 107 million dollars with 76 million of those sales taking place in drugstores. Blood pressure kit sales have held steady over the last year at approximately $83 million.

Consumer driven healthcare

The last decade has seen a movement toward patients’ personal involvement in managing their health.

One example of this is the thousands of medical Web sites that have emerged, allowing people to research their symptoms and access information that was previously only available to doctors and pharmacists. Another example is the ability patients now have to shop online for lower-cost prescription medications or purchase an OTC alternative. The evolution of at-home testing is a logical advancement of the consumer driven healthcare movement. Many consumers view at-home tests and monitoring systems as a less-costly and more-convenient alternative to visiting the doctor.

Though the tests are typically purchased out-of-pocket, they are often less expensive than office visit co-pays, and many consumers access their flexible spending and health savings account funds to help cover the costs.

AHA recommends home blood pressure monitor use

In May 2008, the American Heart Association (AHA) published a joint scientific statement with the American Society of Hypertension and the Preventative Cardiovascular Nurses’ Association encouraging persons with hypertension to routinely monitor their blood pressure at home. Although past AHA guidelines included the use of blood pressure monitors, this was the first statement to make specific recommendations for their use, including

  • Using oscillometric monitors with an upper arm cuff;

  • Taking two or three daily readings, one minute apart; and

  • Taking the readings at the same time every day.

Newer blood pressure monitors average readings over time. Some even allow people to upload the readings to their computer for further tracking.

Patients who monitor their blood pressure at home may have a higher rate of medication compliance.

According to a controlled study in Family Practice Magazine, hypertensive patients who monitored their blood pressure at home cut their visits to physician offices by 27 percent.

At-Home tests cause a stir

At-home testing seems to stir up controversy among doctors, pharmacists, and patients every time a new test is released.

When at-home pregnancy tests first appeared in the 1970’s, doctors wondered if women could handle the results. HIV, drug, and cholesterol tests prompted similar discussion – would folks use them correctly? Now, a new test has been developed that can determine a child’s father. Concern over the impact this test will have on families has been the newest hot topic.

Examples of At-Home Test Kits

  •  Pregnancy

  • Ovulation predictor

  •  Male infertility

  • Urinary tract infection

  • Cholesterol

  • HIV

  • Hepatitis C

  • Fecal occult blood

  • Colorectal disease

  • Skin growth

  • Vision

  • Drug abuse

  • Menopause

  • Vaginal pH

  • Prothrombin time

  • Paternity

Thermometer technology

Personal thermometers have been used for many centuries. Only in the last 15 years, however, has technology given consumers more convenient at-home options. Though traditional glass thermometers are still available and favored by some shoppers, digital oral thermometers reveal body temperature in much less time and are also easier to read.

Ear thermometers that use infrared technology are ready to read in just seconds. Pharmacies are still the most popular place to purchase thermometers. According to IRI, nearly 70 percent of all thermometers sold in the past year were purchased at a drugstore.

The peak period for thermometer sales falls between October and March, coinciding with the cold and flu season. Cross merchandising thermometers near your cold and allergy items may create add-on sales.

Personal diagnostics merchandising tips

Today’s pharmacies mainly have free-standing personal diagnostics displays that are no longer behind the counter. However, it is wise to position your display near the pharmacy counter, in case a shopper has any questions. Be sure to stock a variety of thermometer types. Although some believe glass to be more accurate, others prefer digital or infrared, which tend to show results faster and are easier to read.

Also keep a selection of blood pressure monitors, including varieties of both wrist and cuff models. Although these devices are purchased all throughout the year, sales show a slight peak from December through March. The variety of at-home tests you carry depends on the shoppers frequenting your store.

Pregnancy tests are a drugstore staple and should be positioned with your family planning products. Menopause testing kits, on the other hand, may or may not be a strong seller depending on your shopper demographics. If most of your customers are under the age of 40, the demand for such products may dwindle.

However, some tests are popular across many age groups, such as cholesterol, drug, and urinary tract infection tests.

The Pharmacist’s Role

Pharmacists have an important role in helping shoppers pick the proper test kit for their health concern. If a shopper picks up a prescription for cholesterol-lowering medication, you can mention the benefits of monitoring cholesterol levels at home. When someone purchases an at-home test, pharmacists can encourage follow up with a doctor or the return to the pharmacy for a discussion of the results.

The future looks bright for the personal diagnostics category, led by at-home testing kits. Scientists are working on new technology that may lead to the at-home testing of a variety of diseases such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and heart disease. Surely each addition will come with a new heated debate. One thing is for certain, though – the role of patients co-managing their own health is here to stay.

This article is contributed by the Hamacher Resource Group (http://www.hamacher.com/). Based in Milwaukee and with offices in the United Kingdom, HRG's comprehensive services combine the art of communicating with the science of data analysis to improve the profitability of every link in the retail healthcare supply chain. Manufacturers, retailers, wholesalers, and others count on HRG for strategic solutions to their business goals.

Partial Personal Diagnostics Never Outs List by Subcategory

Fever Strips & Accessories

  • BD Thermometer Digital Basic

  • BD Thermometer Digital Flex

  • Braun Thermoscan Ear

  • Geratherm Thermometer M/F Oral

Blood Pressure Kits & Accessories

  • Omron BP Monitor HEM-629N2

  • Omron BP Monitor HEM-432CN2

  • Omron BP Monitor HEM-712CN2