Purpose: To explore the use of the biological tumour necrosis factor alpha (TNFalpha) inhibitors used in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis as a measure of access to treatment with new medicines. In addition, characteristics both related to national health systems and spending will be assessed to explore possible differences in international utilisation.
Methods: Data from four European countries were included: Ireland, The Netherlands, Norway and Portugal. Annual utilisation rates of TNFalpha inhibitors (2003-2007) were expressed as defined daily doses (DDDs)/1000 inhabitants/day. Qualitative data such as country characteristics, national health policy characteristics, guidelines were obtained from the literature. In addition, interviews were held with leading rheumatologists of each country to put obtained results into (cultural) context.
Results: Utilisation of TNFalpha inhibitors varied widely from 0.32 (Portugal) to 1.89 (Norway) DDDs/1000 inhabitants/day (2007). A major driver for the utilisation of TNFalpha inhibitors seemed to be the country's total health expenditure (R(2)=0.81). When the use of TNFalpha inhibitors became more established, the association seemed stronger. Differences in health expenditure were nevertheless not the only determinant of usage. Cultural aspects such as difference in recognition of guidelines also come into play when looking at differences in TNFalpha utilisation between countries.
Conclusions: The prospects of patients receiving TNFalpha inhibitor treatment depend on the country where they are living. In case uniformity of management and treatment would be considered to provide health benefits, the extent and the causes of variation should feature prominently on future public health agendas.
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