Are Brands Better Than Generics?

Doctors may prescribe brand name Rx just because a patient asks for it

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) For many prescriptions, a brand name and a generic version are available. So how does a doctor choose which to prescribe? The answer may be: YOU.

A survey of doctors found that between 30 to 40 percent of them say that they will prescribe a name brand drug just because that is what the patient asks for – even if a cheaper generic version is available.

Pharmaceutical marketing does have an impact with consumers. Most doctors take their patients' requests seriously when discussing prescription options. Price has always been an factor, but for most doctors, getting a patient to take a medication is the primary objective.

"Talk to a pharmacist about generic Rx."

The survey, led by Eric G. Campbell, PhD, of the Department of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, wanted to know how often doctors give in to patient requests for brand name drugs. They asked 3,500 doctors in seven different specialties to do the survey. A total of 1,891 doctors actually participated.

The survey showed that 43 percent of doctors who had been practicing for more than 30 years said they sometimes or often gave in to patient’s desire for a brand name drug.

For doctors who had been in practice for 10 years or less, 31 percent said they sometimes or often gave into patient’s demands.

Internal medicine doctors were more likely than pediatricians, cardiologists or surgeons to give in patient requests. Doctors who had relationships with drug company reps were more likely to give in to patients and prescribe brand names.

The authors of this report say that higher cost of brand name drugs has many downstream effects on medical costs for everyone.  When a lower cost generic version is available, using the brand name drug is an unnecessary cost – which can influence insurance co-payments and premiums.

The authors conclude that systems need to be developed to reduce the practice of prescribing brand name drugs when generics are available. In most cases, there is no reason to use the brand name – generics are just as good.

In some states, pharmacists can substitute generic for brand name prescriptions. In other states, the pharmacy must fill the prescription as written by the doctor.

The study we published January 7 in JAMA Internal Medicine. The study was funded by the Institute on Medical Professionalism at Columbia University. The authors report no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
January 5, 2013
Last Updated:
January 8, 2013