In the fight against COVID-19, doctors are innovating at a rapid rate. One focus of innovation has been hydroxychloroquine sulfate, a drug approved for indications such as malaria, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. There is much controversy surrounding the drug’s use against COVID-19. While there are many clinical trials underway, some medical experts have advised restraint until more data is available.
The focus of our business is patient-centric health analytics and, with access to privacy-safe, de-identified data on the overwhelming majority of US patients, we are in a unique position to interpret reality as COVID-19 runs its course and the country responds. We have dedicated significant resources to understand the impact of the pandemic, the quarantine and the media cycle on the patient journey and patient-doctor interactions. Our insights on the big recent change in hydroxychloroquine prescribing behavior were covered by the New York Times. We offer a bit more detail about the change in prescribing behavior across geographies here.
The following analysis focuses on first time prescriptions to patients who have not previously received hydroxychloroquine at retail pharmacies. It excludes medicine dispensed at hospital pharmacies or from the National Stockpile.
First Quarter of 2018 vs. 2019
Historically, the volume of hydroxychloroquine prescriptions nationally has stayed quite stable, though at a granular geographical level there are meaningful variations. For example, looking at prescriptions in the first quarter of 2018 vs. 2019 at the DMA level, we see variations ranging from a 90% decrease to a 700% increase.
First Quarter of 2019 vs. 2020
Despite this large variability, when we look at data for the first quarter of 2019 vs. 2020, it is easy to see that the world has changed radically.
In the 2018 vs. 2019 comparison, there is an almost even split of states where prescription volume increased and states where it fell. Looking at 2019 vs. 2020, only a handful of DMAs in the Midwest saw a decrease in hydroxychloroquine prescriptions. All other regions increased in volume and the maximum increase went up to 14x. This shift is dominated by the change in prescription behavior during the second half of March.
Second Half of March 2019 vs 2020
Focusing on March 15-31, we see a starkly different picture with increases all across the country. New York saw a greater than 40x increase in prescriptions, Washington, DC more than 20x, Miami and West Palm Beach over 50x.
There is little doubt that doctors’ fight against COVID-19 has thrown steady-state health analytics for a loop. Pharmaceutical companies are struggling with demand forecasting in this uncertain climate, unsure where to focus their sales forces and media spend in a country locked by quarantine. In addition to helping clients with our rapid analytics capabilities, we are actively watching and analyzing patient and HCP behaviors across the country to understand where key commercial opportunities will appear first as the lockdown eases.