Research Project

Project Publication

Atlas Fast Facts

Data sources: BC PharmaNet and the BC Linked Health Database
Population Studied: All beneficiaries of the BC Medical Services Plan
Population Size: Approx. 4.1 million Period: 1996 to 2003, inclusive
Total Prescription Records: 214 million
Specific Regions: 16 Health Service Delivery Areas (HSDAs)
Statistical Methods: Index-theoretic

Research Areas

British Columbia Rx Atlas, 1st Edition

The British Columbia Rx Atlas combines data from 214 million prescriptions filled in the province between 1996 and 2003 with hospital records, population data, and demographic information to explore the drivers of change in pharmaceutical expenditure over time and variations across regions. The result is a comprehensive breakdown of the $350 million British Columbians spend on prescription drugs every year.

This atlas takes the first step towards addressing the drug utilization and expenditure information gap for one Canadian province, and provides what we believe to be the world’s most detailed portrait of the determinants of the use and cost of pharmaceuticals to date. However, it is a descriptive report that deliberately contains minimal analysis and interpretation of findings. It provides signposts to areas for further investigation by those policy makers, practitioners and researchers best placed to focus on the underlying dynamics and possibilities for policy intervention.

Key Findings

  • Between 1996 and 2003, expenditure per capita grew between 10% and 13% a year across BC, with increased utilization driving increases in most regions
  • More is spent on hypertension drugs than on any other therapeutic drug category. The selection of newer, more costly hypertension treatments increased per capita expenditure by 3% to 4% a year
  • Drugs commonly used to treat depression and anxiety comprised the second-largest category of medicine in terms of spending in 2003. Growth in spending on these drugs was fastest for residents aged over 85
  • The third-largest category of spending was cholesterol-lowering drugs. Expenditure on these drugs more than tripled between 1996 and 2003, driven almost exclusively by increased utilization
  • Increases in spending on antacids and antipsychotic medicines were driven primarily by the selection of more expensive drug treatments
  • Spending on diabetes drugs more than doubled between 1996 and 2003, and grew most rapidly among baby boomers (aged 45 to 64)
  • The cost of analgesics varied across regions more than any other therapeutic drug category
  • Growth in drug expenditure was slowest for antibacterials, one of the largest categories of drug therapy for children
  • While overall expenditure on immunostimulants was relatively small, costs per user exceeded $10,000 in 2003

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