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Nuanced Approach to Pharmacoeconomics Research

People live complex lives. Any number of factors contribute to whether they can afford medication to treat an illness. And like people, our markets are just as complicated.  

Examining these nuances is the backbone of my pharmaceutical economics research. How do our health care choices inform a fluctuating drug market, and vice versa? My goal is to provide a better health care experience for society in a cost-effective way. Answering this question can take us there.  

University of Utah Health understands the importance of this patient-centered approach to pharmacoeconomics. As Vice Chair of Research for the College of Pharmacy, I’m excited to contribute to research that will help set policies that improve the health of all patients—not just those who can afford it.

Drug Pricing-Stock Photo-Joey Mattingly

Beyond the Price of Drugs

Pharmacoeconomics is still a relatively new field. It emerged in the 1980s when there was growing interest in the relationship between drug costs and health outcomes. It sounds straightforward on paper. But when you combine volatile economics with the nuances of patient health, it becomes dizzyingly complex.  

Having worked in pharmacies for more than 17 years, I understand how the industry works. Not just from a management and supply chain perspective, but from the point of view of the patient. I have talked to many patients who couldn’t afford medication for countless reasons.  

As a researcher, it’s my job to speak directly to these patients and find out what’s preventing them from seeking treatment. What are the social and economic barriers that keep one from becoming healthy? Is it more than just the price of the drug?

Research That Can Guide Legislation  

Early in my pharmacoeconomics research career, innovations in hepatitis C virus treatments were suddenly emerging. New pharmaceuticals were curing the disease in just a few months, meaning patients could return to normal life sooner. But I wanted to take a deeper look with my colleagues at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy. We wanted to learn the value of this expensive treatment by talking with patients.  

Our research showed that these hepatitis C treatments were, on average, cost effective for the health care system and provided long-term savings for those treated. But an average just means there is a distribution. What about those who had to prioritize other costs over getting treatment?

I remember a particular patient who had to choose between treating her hepatitis C or keeping up with her rent payments. She chose the rent. This is where communicating my research to lawmakers can be challenging. They may not want to hear that the solution isn’t just lowering drug prices—it’s making housing more affordable, too.

I often find myself in a strange place trying to articulate these human stories in a way that makes sense mathematically. But we should always strive for a system that takes care of everyone, not just an average. My research can help guide legislation to meet that goal.

Joey Mattingly-APhA Speaker of the House
Joey Mattingly, PharmD, MBA, PhD, speaking during his campaign for American Pharmacists Association Speaker of the House.

We are conducting further research at U of U Health to tap into these nuances. I recently completed a study that examines how each entity in the drug distribution chain—from the manufacturer to the pharmacy—profits from a single drug sale.

We are also taking a closer look into ways we can estimate the inflation of drug costs. For example, if I have lung cancer, why does the cost of insulin affect the cost of my treatment? By segmenting the market based on certain diseases, we can see where drug costs may be rising for some but not others.

Importance of Accessibility

I want my research to be digestible. It’s about helping members of Congress understand the consequences of legislation that impacts drug costs. And it’s about inspiring the public to speak out against such policies when they do more harm than good.

To this end, I have supplemented my research with YouTube videos and a blog. These platforms help demystify concepts so the public can be more informed about drug costs. Understanding the basics of what really goes on under the surface can help us make better choices at the voting booth.

Tackling Student Debt  

Additionally, I want to make pharmacy education more accessible by decreasing its cost. I know firsthand what it’s like to leave pharmacy school with more than $200,000 in student debt. U of U Health empathizes with this, too.  

What really drew me to the College of Pharmacy was its groundbreaking First Year Free program. Beginning in 2023, pharmacy students at the University of Utah receive a scholarship that covers their full first year of tuition. A student with less debt is going to have better opportunities throughout their career. The pharmacy industry—and our understanding of how it works—will be better for it.

Joey Mattingly, PharmD, MBA, PhD

Joey Mattingly, PharmD, MBA, PhD

Joey Mattingly is an associate professor and Vice Chair for Research at the University of Utah College of Pharmacy. Since 2014, Mattingly has developed a research portfolio that primarily focuses on drug pricing policy. He has engaged policymakers at local, state, and federal levels, including serving as Speaker of the House of Delegates and Trustee for the American Pharmacists Association from 2019-2021. Most recently, he was appointed as an advisor to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to aid in the implementation of its Drug Price Negotiation Program. He received a PhD in health services research from the University of Maryland Baltimore, a PharmD from the University of Kentucky, and an MBA from the University of Kentucky.  

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