Journal of General Internal Medicine

, Volume 22, Issue 5, pp 645–648 | Cite as

What’s in a Name? Use of Brand versus Generic Drug Names in United States Outpatient Practice

  • Michael A. Steinman
  • Mary-Margaret Chren
  • C. Seth Landefeld
Original Article


The use of brand rather than generic names for medications can increase health care costs. However, little is known at a national level about how often physicians refer to drugs using their brand or generic names.


To evaluate how often physicians refer to drugs using brand or generic terminology.

Design and Participants

We used data from the 2003 National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NAMCS), a nationally representative survey of 25,288 community-based outpatient visits in the United States. After each visit, patient medications were recorded on a survey encounter form by the treating physician or transcribed from office notes.


Our main outcome measure was the frequency with which medications were recorded on the encounter form using their brand or generic names.


For 20 commonly used drugs, the median frequency of brand name use was 98% (interquartile range, 81–100%). Among 12 medications with no generic competition at the time of the survey, the median frequency of brand name use was 100% (range 92–100%). Among 8 medications with generic competition at the time of the survey (“multisource” drugs), the median frequency of brand name use was 79% (range 0–98%; P < .001 for difference between drugs with and without generic competition).


Physicians refer to most medications by their brand names, including drugs with generic formulations. This may lead to higher health care costs by promoting the use of brand-name products when generic alternatives are available.

Key words

drug labeling drug industry prescriptions, drug drugs, generic names prescription fees ambulatory care 


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Copyright information

© Society of General Internal Medicine 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael A. Steinman
    • 1
  • Mary-Margaret Chren
    • 2
  • C. Seth Landefeld
    • 1
  1. 1.Division of GeriatricsSan Francisco VA Medical Center and the University of CaliforniaSan FranciscoUSA
  2. 2.Department of DermatologySan Francisco VA Medical Center and the University of CaliforniaSan FranciscoUSA

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