Study: Complementary Medicines Improve Health, Cut Costs

<p>Specific complementary medicines can contribute to improved health and reduced consumer health care costs, according to a new study by economic research firm Frost and Sullivan.</p>

SAN ANTONIO, Texas—Specific complementary medicines can contribute to improved health and reduced consumer health care costs, according to a new study by economic research firm Frost and Sullivan.

The study, “Targeted Use of Complementary Medicines: Potential Health Outcomes and Cost Savings in Australia," commissioned by the Australian Self Medication Industry (ASMI), concluded that health outcomes are improved and consumers’ out-of-pocket costs associated with medical events are potentially reduced, when specific complementary medicines are used by high-risk target populations.

“There is widespread uptake of complementary medicines in Australia," said Deon Schoombie, ASMI executive director. “Seventy percent of Australians have taken complementary medicines in the last year for general health. Almost half of users take a complementary medicine daily, particularly those aged 65 years or older (67 percent)."

Schoombie also revealed that two of the most popular complementary medicines are fish oils and calcium; 29 percent of fish oil users take it for heart health and 71 percent of calcium users take it for bone health.

“We know that consumers in Australia and globally want to feel more empowered to take good care of their health," said Christopher Shanahan, a researcher from Frost and Sullivan who conducted the study. “The study helps to show that not only can complementary medicines lead to better health, they have the potential to reduce out-of-pocket costs."

The study examined six complementary medicine regimens, all with evidence of efficacy, across four chronic disease conditions – cardiovascular disease (CVD), osteoporosis, age-related macular degeneration and depression. Three of these diseases are in the top nine National Health Priority Areas (NHPAs) that Australian governments have chosen for focused attention because of their significant contribution to the burden of illness and injury in the Australian community.

“The biggest gains identified in the study are in the area of osteoporosis and osteopenia – conditions which affect 1.8 million Australians and resulted in approximately 140,822 fractures in 2012," Schoombie said.

Frost and Sullivan found that the relative risk of an individual in the target population experiencing an osteoporosis-attributed fracture is reduced by 19.7 percent given the use of calcium and vitamin D at preventive intake levels. This translates to a potential of 36,783 avoidable osteoporosis-attributed fractures in 2015 given 100-percent utilization of calcium and vitamin D by the high risk population.

The report estimated that between 2015 and 2020 average annual hospitalization costs of $922 million can be potentially saved, and average annual productivity gains of $900 million can be realized for the same period if all women older than 50 years who were diagnosed with osteoporosis or osteopenia take a preventive dose of calcium and vitamin D. This translates to a benefit of $22.34 for every one dollar spent on complementary medicines, and more than half of the savings would be realized by individual consumers.

The report also explored the burden of cardiovascular disease (CVD) on Australians and the potential health and economic benefits that can be realized if an omega-3 fatty acid regimen was used by all Australians aged 55 years and older who are diagnosed with CVD.

It was estimated that the relative risk of hospitalization due to a CVD event can be reduced by 4.9 percent and 6,894 average annual medical events avoided between 2015 -2020 if all Australians over 55 years old with CVD were to take omega-3 fatty acids at a preventive level. The average annual benefit cost ratio from 2015 to 2020 would be $8.49 for every dollar spent on the omega-3 fatty acids, with 60 percent of the savings going to individual consumers.

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