Most primary care physicians foresee a time when dementia is managed as a chronic disease, a new set of surveys has found. But physicians and patients must be brought up to speed in order to make the most of new treatments and diagnostic technologies, respondents said.
About 50% of the 501 physicians queried said they do not believe that Alzheimer’s disease will ever be cured. But 77% expect that new therapies will improve clinical management of the disease, according to results from The Harris Poll, which conducted the surveys for Quest Diagnostics.
Early diagnosis will be key to treating Alzheimer’s as these new therapies emerge, said Quest, which in March introduced a nationally available blood test for the early detection of Alzheimer’s. It’s a first for the company, and the current survey was conducted to help begin preparing physicians and patients for the “transformational healthcare shifts that must occur” for these newer, more convenient diagnostics to come into widespread use, it said.
Most clinicians agreed that using diagnostic blood tests would help them to make quicker specialist referrals and are likely to be cost-effective for the healthcare system overall. Currently, Alzheimer’s disease is often diagnosed using relatively costly and invasive brain imaging and cerebrospinal fluid taps.
But they also expressed concerns. Most (92%) wondered whether an embrace of blood tests for Alzheimer’s will lead to an overwhelming surge in diagnoses. Fully 60% said the current workforce and/or healthcare system would be unable to handle the load.
Reimbursement and physician and patient education will ultimately determine the utility of dementia detection via blood test, the respondents said.
Therapies on the horizon
The Food and Drug Administration approved the first treatment for Alzheimer’s disease pathology, aducanumab (Aduhelm) in 2021, although Medicare recently limited coverage of the drug to participants in clinical trials. In addition, new discoveries of Alzheimer’s biomarkers have spurred treatment research. More than 100 disease-modifying therapies are now in clinical trials, Quest reported. Nearly 20 of these are in late-stage trials, it said.
Quest’s new Alzheimer’s blood test, the AD-Detect Amyloid Beta 42/40 Ratio, is designed to help physicians evaluate patients’ Alzheimer’s risk and disease progression.
“As new, efficacious therapies come to the forefront, the need for scalable, less invasive and more cost-effective diagnostics, including in primary care settings, will grow,” said Michael Racke, M.D., the company’s neurology medical director, in a statement.
More physician survey responses can be found in the full report.