Study Links OTC Heartburn Medications to Significant Decreases in the Need for Doctor Visits

Nonprescription PPIs Good for Patients, but Also Good for Doctors, Emergency Rooms, and Health Systems

Washington, D.C. (October 12, 2016) — Nonprescription or over-the-counter (OTC) medicines for frequent heartburn called proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) are associated with a "profound and sustained impact on outpatient health care utilization in the United States," according to a new study published in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. A key finding from the study showed that previous rates of patient visits to emergency rooms, hospital clinics and office-based clinics for gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) were significantly reduced across the board after OTC PPIs were introduced. What's more, those rates have remained stable ever since.

PPIs reduce gastric acid production in the stomach and have been prescribed by doctors for nearly 30 years as a safe and effective medicine to treat GERD and acid indigestion (heartburn), a common symptom of GERD. In 2004, the first low-dose PPI "switched" from prescription (Rx) to OTC status for consumer use to relieve frequent heartburn. Other PPIs have followed. During the decade prior to the 2004 switch, patient visits to primary care physicians (PCPs) for GERD saw a 2.8-fold increase. But since 2004, when OTC PPIs became available, consumer visits to primary care physicians (PCPs) have remained virtually flat, even though risk factors for GERD such as rising obesity rates, an aging population, and heavy alcohol consumption rates, did not change during the same period.

"The availability of effective OTC medications for common conditions may be advantageous for the U.S. healthcare system by reducing the number of nonessential physician visits, while creating a more rational allocation of health care resources to manage more serious conditions and other health care priorities," according to study author Dong Chang, MD, of the Division of Respiratory and Critical Care Physiology and Medicine from the Los Angeles Biomed Research Institute, University of California at Los Angeles Medical Center.

"This is an excellent example of the value of Rx-to-OTC switch, not just for consumers, but for the overall health care system as well," says Barbara Kochanowski, PhD, Vice President, Scientific & Regulatory Affairs at the Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA). "Over-the-counter access to safe and effective medications like PPIs provides health benefits for people," says Dr. Kochanowski, "but also cost benefits in terms of saving time and money by avoiding unnecessary doctor visits, prescription plans and costly co-pays." CHPA provided an unrestricted grant to support this study.

Rx-to-OTC switch is a data-driven, scientifically rigorous, and highly regulated process that allows consumers to have OTC access to a growing range of medicines. For a medicine to be granted OTC status, it must have a wide safety margin and be effective, and must bear understandable labeling to ensure proper use. More than 700 OTC products are on the market today that were previously available only by prescription. Previous research indicates 94 percent patient satisfaction with OTC heartburn medications and estimates that OTC therapy saves patients an average total of $174 per person in office visits and medication costs annually.

Citation: Chang, D. W., Grotts, J., Tseng, C.-h. and Brass, E. P. (2016), Time Trends in Physician Visits for Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease Before and After the Rx-to-OTC Switch of Proton Pump Inhibitors. The Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. doi:10.1002/jcph.825

The Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA) is the 135-year-old national trade association representing the leading manufacturers and marketers of over-the-counter (OTC) medicines and dietary supplements. Every dollar spent by consumers on OTC medicines saves the U.S. healthcare system $6-$7, contributing a total of $102 billion in savings each year. CHPA is committed to empowering consumer self-care by preserving and expanding choice and availability of consumer healthcare products

Contact: Mike Tringale 202.429.3520