Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
 / Updated  / Source: Reuters

Prescribing generic medicines instead of brand name drugs whenever possible cuts costs, improves patient adherence and improves health outcomes, according to a new recommendation from the American College of Physicians.

“Generic medications are cheaper and patients are more likely to get those prescriptions filled,” said Dr. Amir Qaseem of the American College of Physicians, who coauthored the recommendation.

“This is for both physicians and patients,” Qaseem told Reuters Health by phone.

Despite what some patients and even doctors may believe, generics are consistently as effective and safe as their brand-name counterparts, he said.

The ACP reviewed existing evidence and found that for Medicare beneficiaries with diabetes, for example, up to 45 percent of prescriptions are for brand-name drugs when identical generics are available. Choosing these generics instead, and choosing therapeutically similar but chemically different generics in some other cases, could save up to $1.4 billion for Medicare, the reviewers found.

Brand name prescriptions are almost twice as likely to be prescribed but never picked up from the pharmacy than generics, and not adhering to prescribed medications leads to higher out-of-pocket costs for patients later on, the reviewers wrote in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

“Often, patients don't tell their doctors they can't afford an expensive drug they were prescribed; they just fail to take it, or take it at sub-therapeutic (too low) doses because of its cost,” said Dr. Jerome Avorn, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston, who was not part of the new study. “And this has major health effects.”

“Logically it might feel like people should already be using (generics), but that’s not the case,” Qaseem said.