Pharma should collaborate with office-based infusion centers

Higher quality service for both patients and manufacturers


For the first time ever, adults with primary progressive multiple sclerosis, an aggressive form of multiple sclerosis, have a treatment. The intravenous drug, Ocrevus (ocrelizumab), approved by FDA last March, is the first treatment to slow the progression of PPMS and reduce disease activity on the brain. It also cuts relapses in patients with the most common form of MS by 50%.

Now, Roche, the drug’s manufacturer, will ramp up the process of selling the medicine. Of course, it will ink deals with major purchasers like wholesalers. But Roche — and all other manufacturers of different intravenous and injectable medicines — will forego a number of benefits if it ignores office-based infusion centers.

Unlike hospital infusion centers, office-based centers are generally owned and operated by physicians. These facilities offer several advantages to drug manufacturers and patients alike.

Office-based infusion centers aren’t affiliated with hospitals. These independent outpatient facilities administer intravenous therapies, including chemotherapy, antibiotics, and antiviral medications.

Pharmaceutical companies who work with them experience a host of benefits.

To start, office-based infusion centers can participate in clinical trials. One Michigan-based infusion center, for instance, recently participated in a trial for a multiple sclerosis biologic. The center set up a post-infusion monitoring area, which allowed it to monitor patients and note any immediate side effects they experienced.

By working with infusion centers, drug companies gain ready access to potential clinical trial participants. They don’t have to spend as much time and money recruiting trial participants across several different hospital networks.

Patients also benefit when manufacturers team up with independent infusion centers. Unlike hospitals, stand-alone infusion centers deal solely with intravenous and injectable drugs. Their dedicated staffs are experts at administering these medicines.

Patients can build long-term relationships with these doctors and nurses. That’s because they’re seeing the same care team every appointment, rather than meeting a new nurse or provider each visit. This close relationship is essential — patients with autoimmune diseases may need to be on an IV or take an injectable product for the rest of their lives. Patients at independent infusion centers won’t feel like they’re just a number at big hospitals that treat tens of thousands of patients and rotate staff frequently.

The more intimate setting offers real health benefits. It allows providers to directly observe any side effects and monitor patient adherence, which can boost health outcomes.

Care also is more accessible at office-based infusion centers. These centers typically are dispersed more evenly between urban, rural, and suburban communities than are hospitals, which are disproportionately located in cities.

Office-based infusion centers also offer shorter wait times. That makes a big difference for severely ill patients who would otherwise have to travel long distances and wait hours for treatment at a hospital.

By avoiding the need to check into a hospital, patients also save money. Administrative costs for patients who received an intravenous immune globulin treatment in hospitals are 178 percent higher than are the same costs in independent clinics.

Of course, this independence and simplicity does come at a cost. Most-notably, these independent infusion centers don’t have the financial backstop of a large hospital system. As a result, independent operations sometimes struggle to start relationships with drug manufacturers. My organization, the National Infusion Center Association, and other nonprofit organizations can help facilitate and establish these relationships.

When infusion centers and drug manufacturers work together, they promote the sustainability and expansion of office-based infusion delivery channels and help patients access high-quality, cost-effective care.

Reece Norris is the co-founder of the National Infusion Center Assn. and currently serves as the Board Secretary and Treasurer. NCIA (www.infusioncenter.org) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit advocacy organization formed to improve patient access to office-administered intravenous and injectable medications.