Oncology medical and infusion services have declined since the start of COVID-19.
Analysis and advisory firm Vizient projects a 4.47% inflation rate for specialty drugs, coupled with an ongoing surge in demand for specialty pharmaceuticals during the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, according to a new report.
At the same time, oncology medical services and infusion centers have declined in usage since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, according to its Drug Price 2020: Summer Forecast report.1
This new projected specialty drug growth rate for January 1 through December 31, 2020, is “much higher than both the general drug inflation rate predicted for 2021, as well as our most recent projection of 3.36% for the July 1, 2020 – June 30, 2021 time frame,” Vizient said in a press release. 2
Sales of specialty medications continued to outpace that of traditional pharmacy during the COVID-19 pandemic, with specialty pharmaceuticals accounting for roughly half of all non-discounted pharmacy spend, Vizient said.
“Although COVID-19 undeniably complicated access to patient care and pharmaceuticals, sales of specialty pharmaceuticals surged during the pandemic. The expansion of specialty pharmaceuticals — along with a much higher than predicted inflation rate compared to
the general drug inflation rate — highlights the need for a defined specialty pharmacy strategy for health systems,” Vizient said.
Pediatric drug costs are also rising as a result of the targeting of rare diseases that require specialty or orphan drugs. Vizient expects costs to rise by 3.16% from January 1 to December 31, 2021.
“The pandemic has magnified the fractures and fissures that exist within healthcare. As hospitals work to repair the damage done as well as build more resilient supply chains and care models, they will have to contend with higher prices at the same time,” said Dan Kistner, PharmD, group senior vice president, pharmacy solutions for Vizient.
Meanwhile, oncology medical services and infusion centers have declined in usage since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in the US, the report found.
“At the height of the pandemic, ambulatory infusion centers were reporting an average decrease in new patient visits by 24%, infusion volume by 7% and radiology about 10%, with return patient visits decreasing by approximately 30%,” Vizient said in its report.
Oncology infusion centers saw a decline in services due to the “highly infectious COVID-19 virus and the many unknowns on how it could impact a high-risk patient population,” Carina Dolan, PharmD, senior director of pharmacy services for Vizient, told Drug Topics®. “Many provider practices quickly converted to telehealth services to keep this vulnerable patient population at home if they were not receiving active treatment.”
Between October 2019 and April 2020, Vizient found a decline in both surgical and medical inpatient oncology volumes of approximately 36% and 26%, respectively.
Of all the oncology service offerings, chemotherapy infusion centers were the least impacted by the pandemic, as patients continued to receive life-sustaining treatment, Dolan said. "Physicians actively avoided admitting cancer patients to hospitals for chemotherapy infusions where possible, lengthened time intervals within a course of treatment, converted regimens to oral therapy where possible, or transitioned to subcutaneous formulations that would shorten their chemotherapy visit.”
Physicians also used caution when determining which chemotherapy regimen to prescribe and selected agents with less toxic adverse effects in order to avoid secondary admissions to hospitals and longer neutropenic durations, according to Dolan.
The extent of the impact of COVID-19 on the oncology drug market will be difficult to measure, “especially when considering the vast disruptions to patient care spanning acute treatments and the long-term effects of delaying treatment, preventative measures, and clinical trials,” Vizient said in the report.