Exclusive Drug Topics survey: Generic switching on the rise

August 7, 2006

Just a few years ago switching to a generic drug without consulting a physician or discussing it with the patient was a rare thing for a pharmacist to do. But the times are a-changin'.

Just a few years ago switching to a generic drug without consulting a physician or discussing it with the patient was a rare thing for a pharmacist to do. But the times are a-changin'.

When asked how many times per week they call a doctor's office to substitute from a brand to a generic, half of the respondents said between one and five times per week. Almost three-quarters of the respondents reported that the doctor agrees to the substitution 76% to 100% of the time. Those figures aren't dissimilar from the results of a 2002 Drug Topics generic survey in which pharmacists said that, on average, they initiated five calls per week to physicians' offices to substitute a generic for a brand drug. Back then 77% of the physicians were agreeable to the change.

The latest statistics point to the efficacy and value of generics, said Charlie Mayr, a spokesman for the Generic Pharmaceutical Association (GPhA). "It just makes sense that people are using them more frequently," Mayr said. He added that the industry has seen the substitution rate increase every year for the past several years and more high-profile drugs coming off patent. "It's clear from a consumer and healthcare provider perspective that generics offer the same efficacy and safety [as brands] and significant savings. It makes sense to us that the substitution of generics is increasing and will continue to increase."

In the states and drug plans that require pharmacists to inform customers of the lowest-cost generics, almost 50% of the respondents said that they inform their patients at least several times per week that the pharmacy carries lower-cost generics. And more than half of the respondents said that their customers ask them to switch to the less expensive generics after being informed that they are available. GPhA's Mayr said that the data indicate that people are making a value judgment at the pharmacy counter. "The thing that's a given is that generics are the same. You're going to get the same medicine and the same results."

Factors spurring substitution

When asked what factors they thought would increase the rate of generic substitution on Rx medications, 42% said that waiving or lowering the co-pay would help. Seventeen percent cited increasing incentives to physicians and pharmacists, while 16% said providing a generic sample would contribute to increasing the rate of generic substitution.