Vitamin B12 intramuscular injections versus oral supplements: a budget impact analysis

L Masucci, R Goeree
Ontario Health Technology Assessment Series 2013, 13 (24): 1-24

BACKGROUND: Vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to adverse health effects such as anemia and, in some cases, permanent neurologic damage. In Canada, patients with vitamin B12 deficiency are typically given intramuscular injections, which incur considerable cost and inconvenience. The clinical evidence-based analysis has found that oral supplementation is as effective as intramuscular injections.

OBJECTIVES: This economic analysis aimed to estimate the cost savings of switching from intramuscular injections to high-dose oral supplements for patients aged 18 years and older with confirmed vitamin B12 deficiency.

DATA SOURCES: Population-based administrative databases for Ontario were used to identify patients receiving vitamin B12 intramuscular injections in any fiscal year between 2006 and 2011. The Ontario Drug Benefit (ODB) database was used to identify patients who were prescribed vitamin B12 injections, and the Ontario Health Insurance Plan database was used to identify all physician claims for intramuscular injections as well as laboratory tests assessing vitamin B12 levels. The Registered Physicians Database was used to identify the type of physician; the analysis was restricted to family physicians and internists.

REVIEW METHODS: Two cohorts of patients were identified. For cohort 1, the ODB database was used to identify patients who were prescribed vitamin B12 injections. Those covered under the ODB are 65 years of age or older and are economically deprived. A second cohort was created to capture those 18 to 64 years of age receiving injections. Cohort 2 consisted of patients (not in cohort 1) who received 6 or more intramuscular injections within 1 year and had a laboratory test 2 months before the intramuscular injection claim. Physician experts were consulted to estimate the resources and costs of converting patients to oral supplements. The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care perspective was taken, and all costs are expressed in 2013 Canadian dollars.

RESULTS: The budget impact analysis demonstrated costs of $2.8 million to the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care in the first year of conversion; however, in subsequent years there are savings of $4.2 million per year. The cumulative 5-year budget impact demonstrates savings of $14.2 million to the health care system.

LIMITATIONS: This analysis represents the cost of conversion for those currently receiving intramuscular injections. There are no conversion costs for those who are prescribed oral supplements as an initial therapy, and so the savings could be even greater than reported. As well, an underlying assumption of this analysis is that patients will comply with oral supplementation.

CONCLUSIONS: Over 5 years, there are savings of $14.2 million to the health care system from switching to vitamin B12 oral supplements.

PLAIN LANGUAGE SUMMARY: Vitamin B12 deficiency has long been thought to be associated with dementia and other neurocognitive disorders. In a separate report, Health Quality Ontario (HQO) reviewed the published research on this issue and found only weak evidence that vitamin B12 deficiency is associated with the onset of dementia. That review also found moderate evidence that treatment with vitamin B12 does not improve dementia and that oral supplements are as effective as injections of vitamin B12. In 2010, more than 2.9 million serum vitamin B12 tests were performed in Ontario at a cost of $40 million. Each year, approximately 110,000 residents receive vitamin B12 injections to boost their levels of vitamin B12. HQO commissioned an economic analysis to estimate the cost savings of switching from vitamin B12 injections to high-dose oral supplements for patients aged 18 years and older with confirmed B12 deficiency. This study concluded that the Ontario health care system could save $14.5 million in 5 years by switching to oral supplements, assuming that patients took the oral supplements as required.

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