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Editorial: Healthcare Cost Reduction - It's About Economics

By Len Monheit

A few weeks ago, I participated in a symposium in Toronto, Canada entitled “Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals for Healthcare Cost Reduction”. This issue though, the impact of our industry on healthcare cost reduction, transcends national borders, evidenced by presentations made at the symposium from Sweden, as well as by the Lewin Group, presenting the findings from two DSEA (Dietary Supplement Education alliance) funded studies.

Over the course of a very busy day, participants learned about the marketplace, and then a series of presentations dealt with various nutraceutical and functional food categories where promising research indicated the potential to positively impact human health on the one hand, and the opportunity to take a disease prevention approach to directly lower healthcare costs.

From the Lewin work, calcium and vitamin D, folic acid, marine-based omega-3’s and lutein/zeaxanthin all have potential, with the symposium’s presenters over the course of the day also speaking about probiotics, pulse bioactives, flax and others. When it comes to healthcare conditions to target, inflammation, diabetes, CVD, fractures and GI/digestion related conditions seem to be the most likely impact points.

Much of what I’ve just said is either review or simply obvious, nevertheless, it helps and did help a few weeks ago to establish a framework or at least a baseline for some of the things that need to happen next if industry is going to be able to deliver a positive impact on health and healthcare cost reduction.

Perhaps most significant of all the day’s presentations were two which dealt with economics. My own economic background is limited to a few university level courses and to hear about the assumptions, factors and interrelationships affecting policy, programs and decision making, viewed from the economic perspective was enlightening.

What was even more important, I think, was some of the symposium’s concluding comments, where next steps and symposium outcomes were being considered and the economic factors again came into play. Specifically, in a discussion dealing with the question about whether different or improved study design to incorporate or at least pave the way for more health care and healthcare cost impact analysis would be a good step to begin tying our products to significant benefits, the gathering agreed in general that yes, there was certainly room to improve study design to make end data useful for this ‘argument’. The real clincher to this dialogue was when one of the economists suggested that research teams for studies that might eventually be used as part of this ‘argument’ include, from the outset, an economist who might be instrumental in optimizing the study’s ultimate determination of cost impact.

Of course there were other outcomes of the symposium, including the identification of low hanging fruit, more immediate opportunities where funds and interest were both available and where participants could easily visualize targeted studies that would measure impact on health, but also be able to directly tie this health impact to a reduction in treatment costs. (I hope these initiatives are pursued as quickly as possible, because the argument is critically needed to combat some of the negatives we continually face.)

Putting the inclusion of economics and policy implications into study design up front into a contextual theme those familiar with my column will recognize:

It is only through the creative use of those experts external to the industry itself that our industry will develop solid momentum and credibility. In this case, we quickly rush to cite market sizes or latest data from current reports in our communications as studies are published, but seem to have much less use for considering economics at the beginning of research programs, other than to identify target market size.

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