Switching the Histamine H2 Receptor Antagonist Famotidine to Nonprescription Status in Canada
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The aim of this study was to compare the direct medical costs associated with the treatment of patients with heartburn/nonulcer dyspepsia under 2 scenarios: (i) no nonprescription histamine H2 receptor antagonist (H2RA) is available (the 'status quo scenario'); and (ii) the H2RA famotidine (at a daily dosage of 10mg) is available over-the-counter (OTC) at retail pharmacies (the 'OTC scenario'). We employed a decision analysis model over a 16-week period that considered direct medical costs from 2 alternative perspectives: (i) society, including the cost of self-medication borne by patients; and (ii) a provincial third-party payer for healthcare. Data concerning direct medical costs associated with consumer self-medication and physician prescription of medication (including pharmacist dispensing fees), tests and procedures, and consultations with general practitioners and specialists were drawn from a clinician panel, published unit costs, and special surveys of institutional databases. All costs are reported in 1993 Canadian dollars ($Can; $Can1 = $US0.72, October 1995). From a societal perspective, the expected cost per patient over a 16-week period is not substantially different between the status quo and the OTC scenarios ($Can98 and $Can96, respectively). From a provincial third-party payer perspective, the expected costs per patient for the same scenarios are $Can95 and $Can89, a saving of $Can6 per patient. These results are sensitive to the proportion of patients who initially choose to see their physician rather than self-medicate, and the percentage of patients achieving successful treatment of symptoms. Changes in the rate or the cost of nonprescription medication, tests/procedures and physician visits do not affect the relative cost rankings. The total number of physician visits remained constant in both scenarios. From the societal cost perspective, the availability of famotidine in nonprescription form yields total costs that are similar to the status quo. However, from the perspective of the provincial payer, the expected costs per patient are likely to be slightly lower than the status quo if famotidine is available in unrestricted OTC scenario use. To generate significant savings to provincial payers, the number of people choosing immediate physician contact would have to be reduced, although not substantially, in the OTC scenario.
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