The Full Value of a Diabetes Patient


Articles abound about the total incidence of diabetes and the cost of this growing epidemic to the U.S. healthcare system. One such frequently cited study found that in 2007 there were 17.5 million diagnosed diabetics (up from 12.1 million in 2002), and the total cost of diabetes in the U.S. was $174 million.1

But as an independent pharmacist, the real question is, “What does this mean for me?”

Implications for Independent Pharmacies

What matters to retail pharmacies is not the total spending on diabetes, but the spending by each diabetes patient in your pharmacy. The general perception is that these customers represent more revenue than other customers. This is true — and it might be even better than you realize.

Consider the following:

  • A 2009 study by Consumer Reports found that diabetes patients spend an average of $6,000 per year on costs for treating their disease.2 This includes costs for medications, monitoring supplies, doctor visits, eye exams and other routine costs. (This figure does not include costs related to complications from diabetes.) Spending in pharmacies represents a significant chunk of this $6,000 per year in spending per patient.
  • A 2008 study in Diabetes Care3 indicated that in 2007, the average spending per diabetes patient on outpatient medications and supplies (insulin, oral agents, diabetic supplies, retail prescriptions, and other equipment and supplies) to treat diabetes averaged almost $1,600. Growth in spending of 6% per year since 2007 means that in 2011, the average patient with diabetes is spending more than $2,000 per year on medications and supplies.
  • Recent articles, such as “The Cost of Diabetes” from the October 2010 issue of Diabetes Health,4 confirm that diabetics typically spend from $1,000 to $2,500 per year, sometimes more, on medications, needles, test strips, sterile dressings and other supplies. These are often items that are purchased on a weekly or monthly basis.

But That Is Not the Full Story

While the spending by diabetics on diabetes medications and supplies is significant, it is far from the full story. Here are some additional facts you should know:

  • Diabetics tend to have many other complications and co-morbidities that require other treatments. On average, people with diabetes have 2.6 additional, and potentially complicating, illnesses.5 Most common are high blood pressure, fluid and electrolyte disorders, chronic pulmonary disease, anemia and kidney failure.
  • As a result of these other diseases, diabetics actually spend more on non-diabetic drugs, equipment, and supplies than they do on diabetes treatments.6 For every $1 spent by a diabetic on a retail prescription, another $1.05 is spent on a retail prescription that is not attributable to diabetes. And, for every $1 spent by a diabetic on diabetes-related equipment and supplies, another $0.70 is spent on equipment and supplies not attributable to diabetes.

This means that the spending in retail pharmacies by diabetics is far greater than just the spending on diabetes drugs and supplies. However, even that isn’t the full story. Because of complications related to diabetes, those with this disease often experience eye complications, foot complications, skin complications and oral-health issues. To deal with these complications, they need a wide variety of over-the-counter products, such as special shoes, socks and creams; products related to wound care; and much more.

Also, these individuals don’t necessarily pick up their own prescriptions. Family members or other caregivers — who often have their own prescriptions and needs — frequently do the purchasing of medications and supplies and pick up the prescriptions that a diabetic customer needs. These individuals are also potential customers.

What does it all mean? It means that customers with diabetes and their caregivers might be even more attractive customers than you thought. By promoting your pharmacy as a diabetes-care destination and providing education, supplies and support for this valuable patient population, you can drive additional revenue to your bottom line for years to come.



1. Diabetes Care, Volume 31, Number 3, March 2008
2. Consumer Reports, November 2009
3. Diabetes Care, Volume 31, Number 3, March 2008
4. “The Cost of Diabetes,” Diabetes Health, October 9, 2010
5. “The High Cost of Diabetes,” Science News
6. Diabetes Care, Volume 31, Number 3, March 2008