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IQVIA’s Long offers view of pharmaceutical market amid COVID-19


In a Drug Store News webinar held Tuesday, Doug Long, IQVIA vice president of industry relations for U.S. retail, outlined the ways that the novel coronavirus has impacted the U.S. pharmaceutical market.

Long sized up a number of industry trends amid COVID, including the resumption of physician and institutional visits and their impact on pharmacy and retail pharmacy. He also shared data on the increased role of telehealth in the industry, and the market demand dynamics impacting retail pharmacy.

The full webinar can be watched on demand here.

Long said that prescription dollar growth was about 4%. "In May, we talked about stockpiling. Prescription growth was up strongly at the beginning of year," Long said. "It’s slowed down somewhat, particularly on unadjusted prescriptions. The trend on traditional and specialty remains the same. Ninety-day scripts grew dramatically during the stockpiling.”

On the mergers and alliances front, Long said there hasn’t been any activity other than the expectation that the Upjohn-Mylan merger is expected to be completed in September, and the recent deal announced by Walgreens to create more retail clinics.

Looking at the market on a dollar basis, Long said the year to date is 4%, while the last 12 months through May it is at 4.7%. “That’s slightly below 2019 by just about a point or two,” he said.

Retail and mail is growing faster than the total market, mainly because there were less outpatient procedures and less inpatient care. “Oncology was the reason for that,” Long said. He pointed to specialty medications growing at 10%, even as the traditional market decreased by one-tenth of 1%. Generics continue to make up roughly 89% of dispensed prescriptions. 

In evaluating the impact of COVID on prescriptions, Long said, “The good news is that the first time since stockpiling is that the regular prescriptions went up year to year — the week of July 4 had 5.4% more prescriptions filled than the same period the year before.

"We started off 2020 strong, then we had the stockpiling in early March, then you had de-stocking and many people went and got 90 day supplies in March," he said. "They are starting to come back, but still overall prescriptions are lagging 2019 by minus 2%.  It may be the start of comeback."

On the topic of new prescriptions versus refills, Long said that more acute prescriptions are new prescriptions. “You see the underperformance ever since the stockpiling and, now for the first time, it’s been up versus a year ago. That’s a positive thing. We’ve seen 'acute' come back and 'new' come back. Since Memorial Day, new brand prescriptions have generated a greater proportion of prescriptions as patients have increased face-to-face visits with prescribers," he said. "Now 60% of prescriptions are for new prescriptions. The pain and mental health categories are showing signs of life. The extended fills, which are the 90-day prescriptions peaked the week of June 12; now it’s down to 23%.”  

On the subject of 90-day scripts, Long said they are running above last year’s levels, while 30-day scripts were below last year’s level. Long predicts 30-day scripts will grow in the next few weeks. "Ninety day are important. About 90% of 90-day scripts are filled in retail and they are an effective way to increase adherence rates," he said. "If people are adherent to their antidepressant medications, they are more adherent to rest of their medications.”

Finally, Long discussed the impact of COVID on telehealth, stating, “There were very few telehealth visits before COVID. They grew dramatically. They peaked in the middle of April when the whole country locked down. Since then, the number of office visits and institutional visits is increasing. Telehealth was 1%. It’s now 11% . At the height, it was close to 20% of visits. Telehealth visits has impacted all types of conditions, most notably for those that are chronic, such as diabetes, heart disease and cholesterol. They peaked and now they’ve come back somewhat,” he said.

The webinar was sponsored by eHealth, whose mission is to connect everyone with quality, affordable health insurance and Medicare plans. eHealth partners with over 180 top insurers to help consumers find essential health coverage. Not only does eHealth serve individuals, families and businesses with health, dental and vision options, but through eHealth Medicare it connects consumers with Medicare Advantage, Medicare supplement insurance and prescription drug Part D plans, the company said.

This is the second DSN webinar in which Long discussed the pharmaceutical market amid COVID-19.

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