USA Today reported recently on mounting pressure on doctors to stop giving free drug samples to their patients. The longstanding practice is under attack from several sources, including —
- Consumer advocates, who say that doctors use free samples to start patients on expensive brand-name drugs, when cheaper generics would do;
- Pharmacists, who say they are being kept out of the loop; and
- Healthcare systems, which say that doctors aren’t completing the necessary paperwork, etc., to track patient outcomes.
Frankly, we have mixed feelings about the no-samples trend. While certainly there is the danger that a doctor might prescribe a more expensive drug simply because he or she has samples on hand (which would cost the patient more in the long run), this obviously isn’t always the case.
What’s more, it’s exactly the kind of situation that a well-informed patient is prepared to handle during a consultation.
As we have advised here before, whenever your doctor prescribes you a new medication, you should always ask these questions (among others):
- Is it a brand-name or generic medication?
- If it is a brand-name medication, is there a cheaper or generic substitute that would work just as well?
- If it is a brand-name medication and there is no generic substitute, can you provide me with free samples of the drug?
You’d be surprised how often asking these simple questions can lower your prescription drug bill. And by asking about generics first, you reduce the risk of being prescribed an expensive drug unnecessarily.
Armed with this information, we encourage you to take advantage of your doctor’s free samples — as long as they last.