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Taking free sample drugs might cost you more in the end - Science Recorder

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  • Taking free sample drugs might cost you more in the end - Science Recorder

    According to a study conducted by researchers at Stanford University Medical Center, dermatologists with access to free drug samples are more likely than those without access to such samples to write prescriptions for more expensive drugs.

    Though studies have shown that most physicians do not believe that the availability of free samples affects their behavior or recommendations for patients, the researchers found that the average retail cost of the prescriptions written by dermatologists with access to samples are about twice the cost of prescriptions written by dermatologists at an academic medical center, where such samples are prohibited.

    The complete research results appeared Apr. 16 in JAMA Dermatology, and are likely to inflame an ongoing debate about whether free drug samples are helpful or instead slant the prescription tendencies of doctors to favor brand name drugs at the expense of patients and their health insurance companies.

    “Physicians may not be aware of the cost difference between brand-name and generic drugs,” said Alfred Lane, MD, emeritus professor of dermatology and pediatrics at Stanford University, “and patients may not realize that, by accepting samples, they could be unintentionally channeled into subsequently receiving a prescription for a more expensive medication.”

    The researchers found that branded drugs and branded generics comprised 79 percent of prescriptions written by dermatologists nationwide, but only 17 percent of those written by physicians at an academic medical center that prohibits its physicians from accepting drug samples.  Branded drugs and branded generic drugs often have similar retail prices.

    According to HealthDay News, for a single visit, the average retail cost of prescriptions for patients whose doctors received free samples from drug makers was about $465, compared with about $200 for patients whose doctors did not receive free samples, the study found.

    In contrast to some medical specialties, the percentage of prescriptions written with a sample by dermatologists increased from 2001 to 2010 from 12 to 18 percent, while the proportion for all other specialties decreased during the same time period from seven to four percent.

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