, Volume 15, Issue 7, pp 478-483

A physician survey of the effect of drug sample availability on physicians’ behavior

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Abstract

OBJECTIVE: Pharmaceutical companies often use drug samples as a marketing strategy in the ambulatory care setting. Little is known about how the availability of drug samples affects physicians’ prescribing practices. Our goal was to assess: (1) under what circumstances and why physicians dispense drug samples, (2) if drug samples lead physicians to use medications other than their preferred drug choice, and (3) the physician characteristics that are associated with drug sample use.

DESIGN: Cross-sectional survey.

SETTING: University-based clinics at one academic medical center.

PARTICIPANTS: 154 general medicine and family physicians.

MEASUREMENTS AND MAIN RESULTS: Physicians’ self-reported prescribing patterns for 3 clinical scenarios, including their preferred drug choice, whether they would use a drug sample and subsequently prescribe the sampled medication, and the importance of factors involved in the decision to dispense a drug sample. A total of 131 (85%) of 154 physicians responded. When presented with an insured woman with an uncomplicated lower urinary tract infection, 22 (17%) respondents reported that they would dispense a drug sample; 21 (95%) of 22 sample users stated that they would dispense a drug sample that differed from their preferred drug choice. For an uninsured man with hypertension, 35 (27%) respondents reported that they would dispense a drug sample; 32 (91%) of 35 sample users indicated that they would dispense a drug sample instead of their preferred drug choice. For an uninsured woman with depression, 108 (82%) respondents reported that they would dispense a drug sample; 53 (49%) of 108 sample users indicated that they would dispense a drug sample that differed from their preferred drug choice. Avoiding cost to the patient was the most consistent motivator for dispensing a drug sample for all 3 scenarios. For 2 scenarios, residents were more likely to report using drug samples than attendings (P<.05). When respondents who chose a drug sample for 2 or 3 scenarios were compared to those who never chose to use a drug sample, or chose a drug sample for only one scenario, only younger age was independently associated with drug sample use.

CONCLUSION: In self-reports, the availability of drug samples led physicians to dispense and subsequently prescribe drugs that differ from their preferred drug choice. Physicians most often report using drug samples to avoid cost to the patient.

Presented in part at the 21st national meeting, Society of General Internal Medicine, Chicago, Ill, April 1998 and published as an abstract.