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Health Economics of IBS -- Clinical Implications: Economic Burden of IBS


Economic Burden of IBS

IBS is extremely common, with population-based prevalence estimates ranging from 10% to 15% in North America.[1-2] Approximately 12% of patients in the primary care setting and 28% of patients seeking subspecialty gastroenterology care will be diagnosed with IBS.[3-4] Several patterns of healthcare seeking have been identified in patients with IBS. Although IBS affects both sexes, it is largely considered a women's health issue. Epidemiologic data suggest that the female:male ratio of IBS sufferers in the community is 2-3:1, although estimates differ depending on the practice setting from which such assessments are generated. Generally, however, two thirds of IBS sufferers in North America who seek medical care are women.[5,6] Although the minority (25%) of individuals with typical symptoms of the disorder actually do seek medical care, the high prevalence of IBS translates into a sizable absolute number of patients.[2,7] Recent reports estimate physician visits attributable to IBS to be as high as 3.5 million visits annually.[8-10] Additionally, it has been repeatedly demonstrated that patients with IBS are more likely to seek medical care for other, non-GI conditions or physical complaints, such as fibromyalgia or chronic pelvic pain.[5] Because there are no discrete physical abnormalities or biochemical/serological markers that define IBS, this condition has historically been viewed by many clinicians as a diagnosis of exclusion. This view, coupled with the increasing number and cost of available diagnostic studies, can lead to extensive and unnecessary testing. An exhaustive exclusionary diagnostic evaluation, especially in patients with typical IBS symptoms without alarm features (age ≥ 50 years, fever, abnormal physical examination findings, hematochezia, unintentional weight loss, nocturnal symptoms, or a family history of organic GI disease), contributes to an increased burden on both patients and the medical system, and recently has been challenged regarding its usefulness in the management of such patients.[11]

Direct vs Indirect Costs

When considering the economic burden of a condition, it is important to consider both direct and indirect costs. The direct costs (use of healthcare-related services such as physician visits, diagnostic tests, and prescription or over-the-counter medication) associated with IBS are substantial.[12] Excluding prescription and over-the-counter medicines, direct costs have been estimated to range from $1.5 to $10 billion. The indirect costs of IBS, however, have been estimated to be much greater -- approaching $20 billion.[13] Examples of indirect costs include expenses that are not directly associated with the procurement of healthcare resources, such as the loss of hourly wages resulting from missed work or diminished work productivity resulting from absences for physician visits or incapacitating symptoms. Although direct costs are relatively straightforward and measurable, indirect costs are much more difficult to quantify.

Indirect costs comprise 3 primary components -- absenteeism (time absent from work), presenteeism (decreased productivity at work), and diminished health-related quality of life (HRQoL) -- which, in turn, are intangible costs that may result in diminished productivity.[12,14-16] The economic impact of absenteeism is fairly straightforward to gauge because most employers maintain adequate records of employee absences for illness. It has been estimated that a minimum of one third of IBS patients are absent on average from 1 day of work or school per week because of their symptoms.[17] Results of a recent survey indicate that patients with IBS were absent from work twice as many days per year due to illness as compared with healthy respondents.[18] In 1998 the direct cost of treating an employee with IBS was nearly $4000 compared with $2350 for an employee without IBS.[19] By comparison, indirect costs to the employer were approximately $470 higher for employees with IBS -- a likely underestimate because these indirect costs only included measures of absenteeism.[20]

Presenteeism may represent a significantly larger and less appreciated component of indirect costs than absenteeism.[17-21] Results of a recent study that examined impaired work productivity and HRQoL in employees with IBS demonstrated that the disorder was associated with a 21% reduction in work productivity, the equivalent of working less than 4 days in a 5-day work week.[14] Both absenteeism and presenteeism are growing concerns for both employers as well as interested consumers who are forced to bear the brunt of lost work productivity and subsidize employee healthcare costs. It is, therefore, critical for healthcare providers and managed care organizations to present solutions for employers on how best to manage the large, often unrecognized costs of IBS.

Finally, IBS has a significant negative impact on the HRQoL of affected patients[14,22-25] that is comparable to that of other chronic GI and non-GI disorders.[26-27] Reduction in HRQoL may result from several features of IBS that are also observed with other functional GI disorders. The multiple symptoms of IBS may wax and wane over time, leading patients to put off healthcare consultation, thus resulting in delayed diagnosis of, and extended time suffering from, the disorder.[12,28] Supporting this hypothesis is the observation that although multiple epidemiologic and clinical studies demonstrate that the symptoms of IBS typically appear between the ages of 15-30 years, most IBS patients do not seek their first healthcare consultation for the disorder until they are between the ages of 30 and 50 years, coinciding with peak employment ages.[29] Last, as in other functional GI disorders, the historical absence of effective therapies addressing the multiple symptoms of IBS is also likely have a negative impact on the HRQoL of affected patients.[30]