A new report from a physician’s group and Consumer Reports magazine finds that many newer medical treatments are expensive and haven’t proven to be more effective than older, less expensive methods.
In a joint investigation titled High Value Care, the leading consumer magazine along with the American College of Physicians examined the impact of newer drug treatments and other medical procedures versus others that weren’t as expensive but had been available for years. They found that newer doesn’t necessarily mean better.
Specifically, the organizations highlighted treatments for Type 2 diabetes and found that few other examples show better that less expensive care is better. The study determined that metformin, sold under the brand name Glucophage, is a more effective and cost-efficient means of treating diabetes than newer drugs. While generic forms of the drug are available for just $4 a month, newer prescription treatments like Actos ($230-370) and Januvia ($265) cost much more and have been associated with far more side effects.
Metformin has been available for at least 20 years while the other drugs have only been approved in recent years. Consumer Reports, in a supplement publication designed to help diabetes patients pick the best care, noted that Glucophage or metformin were more effective because they worked to lower LDL or “bad” cholesterol. Taking the older drug also does not cause rapid weight gain.
Both newer drugs are touted as being better than metformin simply because they’re newer. It’s a common way of boosting revenues among pharmaceutical companies but in these and other instances, some studies suggest these drugs could be causing more harm than good. In that Consumer Reports supplement, the magazine notes that drugs like Actos and Januvia are ineffective at reducing LDL cholesterol. In fact, both drugs have been associated with a spike in LDL cholesterol levels. Also, it can cause a 5 to 10 percent weight gain in patients.
Actos has been a leading Type 2 diabetes drug treatment for several years but has recently come under fire as more people taking the drug for longer periods of time have begun developing bladder cancer. Januvia also carries the risk of a serious side effect, pancreatitis or pancreatic cancer.
Consumer Reports also suggests that non-drug treatments are more effective than prescription drugs in treating Type 2 diabetes, specifically by reducing symptoms and complications associated with the disease. In a survey of more than 5,000 diabetics, the magazine found that eating less, getting more exercise, and consulting several health care professionals are more effective than relying on a single drug to manage the disease.
For the study, American College of Physicians discovered at least 37 instances in which less expensive care was better. It plans to publish a comprehensive analysis on how the group reached its conclusions that older treatments were more effective and cost-efficient in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.