Better Health: Smart Health Commentary Better Health (TM): smart health commentary

Article Comments

Are Free Drug Samples A Good Idea?


Most doctors have a closet in their office filled with various pharmaceutical samples. The pharmaceutical industry has had “drug reps” or account reps or pharmaceutical sales staff making the rounds on doctors offices in every city and town across the United States for decades. The industry spent $33.5 billion promoting drugs and sending reps to doctors offices with samples in 2004. That is a lot of samples!

Most of us thought we were doing the right thing for our patients when we accepted drug samples. I was able to give patients a month (or more) free to make sure it worked and that they tolerated it. Other patients had no insurance and I supplied them with all of their medication for free from my sample closet. I had a good relationship with the rep and they kept my office stocked with the medication my patients needed. It seemed like a win-win for everyone.

But new information is coming out that makes me take pause. A 2008 study published in Medical Care said that patients who got samples paid $66 more over six months than patients who did not get free samples. Are physicians influenced to prescribe high cost, brand name drugs rather than cheaper generics? With Americans spending $200 billion in prescription drugs in 2002, it serves the pharmaceutical giants well to give out samples and potentially influence those choices.

When physicians are interviewed, they all say the samples, free pens and sales pitch does not influence their prescribing habits. No one likes to think they are influenced when they accept samples and when queried, they say they are choosing the best drug for the patient.

The bans on accepting samples are coming from hospitals and academic institutions, not from physicians who are actually seeing patients day in and day out in their offices. The AMA and the American Academy of Family Physicians say it is OK for physicians to dispense free samples. But more and more academic institutions along with Kaiser Health Plans are banning sales reps completely.

Everybody likes something for free. We just need to make sure it isn’t free today…more costly tomorrow.

*This blog post was originally published at EverythingHealth*


You may also like these posts

Read comments »


Comments are closed.

Return to article »

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

Read more »

How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

Read more »

See all interviews »

Latest Cartoon

See all cartoons »

Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

Read more »

The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

Read more »

Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

Read more »

See all book reviews »