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Original research
Cost saving of switching to equivalent inhalers and its effect on health outcomes


Background Switching inhalers to cheaper equivalent products is often advocated as a necessary cost saving measure, yet the impact on patient’s health and healthcare utilisation has not been measured.

Methods We identified asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients from UK primary care electronic healthcare records between 2000 and 2016. A self-controlled case series was used to estimate incidence rate ratios (IRR); comparing outcome rates during the risk period, 3 months after the exposure (financially motivated switch), and control periods (preswitch and postrisk period). Four outcomes were assessed: disease exacerbation, general practitioner consultation, non-specific respiratory events and adverse-medication events. Medication possession ratio (MPR) was calculated to assess adherence. 2017 National Health Service indicative prices were used to estimate cost differences per equivalent dose.

Results We identified a cohort of 569 901 asthma and 171 231 COPD regular inhaler users, 2% and 6% had been switched, respectively. Inhaler switches between a brand-to-generic inhaler, and all other switches (brand-to-brand, generic-to-generic, generic-to-brand), were associated with reduced exacerbations (brand-to-generic: IRR=0.75, 95% CI 0.64 to 0.88; all other: IRR=0.79, 95% CI 0.71 to 0.88). Gender, age, therapeutic class, inhaler device and inhaler-technique checks did not significantly modify this association (p<0.05). The rate of consultations, respiratory-events and adverse-medication events did not change significantly (consultations: IRR=1.00, 95% CI 0.99 to 1.01; respiratory-events: IRR=0.96, 95% CI 0.95 to 0.97; adverse-medication-events: IRR=1.05, 95% CI 0.96 to 1.15). Adherence significantly increased post-switch (median MPR: pre-switch=54%, post-switch=62%; p<0.001). Switching patients, in the cohort of regular inhaler users, to the cheapest equivalent inhaler, could have saved around £6 million annually.

Conclusion Switching to an equivalent inhaler in patients with asthma or COPD appeared safe and did not negatively affect patient’s health or healthcare utilisation.

  • inhaler devices
  • asthma
  • COPD epidemiology

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