Never Let Your Doctor Write You This Prescription, Experts Say

It's time to set the record straight and get the best prescription available.

The doctor-patient relationship is all about trust, and for good reason: your life, health, and wellbeing are literally in their hands. Experts say that a key part of building that trust lies in open communication, yet there's one conversation doctors and patients are evidently failing to have. A 2013 Harvard study has found that many doctors may be misinterpreting your wishes and acting against your best interest when it comes to prescriptions. A quick conversation to set the record straight could have a major impact—not only on your health, but on your finances, too. Read on to find out which prescription you should never let your doctor write, and how to fix the problem if they already have.

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Don't let your doctor prescribe a name brand drug when a generic is available.

doctor's hand writing prescription

According to a 2013 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, there's a very good chance you've been throwing money away by mentioning brand-name drugs at your doctor's office. "Approximately four of 10 physicians report that they sometimes or often prescribe a brand-name drug to a patient when a generic is available because the patient wanted it," the researchers wrote.

Often, patients will request or reference a particular drug because they've seen it advertised, and don't know the name of its generic equivalent. This is not by chance, the study says. "Pharmaceutical companies aim to stimulate patients' requests for brand-name medications and increase the likelihood physicians will honor such requests," the researchers wrote. Unfortunately for unwitting consumers, this practice has major financial implications. Even if you're insured, the cost hike can send your co-pay skyrocketing.

The prevalence of brand-name drugs are "a huge source of wasteful spending that can be prevented," Eric G. Campbell, Ph.D., professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and co-author of the study told Harvard Health Publishing. The FDA lays bare the shocking price gap: "A single generic competitor can lead to price reductions of 30 percent, while five generics competing are associated with price drops of nearly 85 percent," says the health authority.

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Generics and brand name drugs are the same in every meaningful way.

Close up of pharmacist's hand filling prescription in pharmacy

Some patients may worry that by requesting a generic drug they will receive a substandard or less regulated product, but experts say this is patently false. Generic drugs are chemically identical to their brand-name counterparts, and differ only in packaging, presentation, and non-active ingredients. You can rest assured that by taking a generic, you'll receive the same therapeutic effect.

"FDA-approved generic medicines work in the same way and provide the same clinical benefit and risks as their brand-name counterparts," the FDA explains on its site. "A generic medicine is required to be the same as a brand-name medicine in dosage, safety, effectiveness, strength, stability, and quality, as well as in the way it is taken. Generic medicines also have the same risks and benefits as their brand-name counterparts," the health authority adds.

Here's why doctors may prescribe brand-name drugs.

Woman talking to her doctor

Campbell's team found that 37 percent of doctors will prescribe a name-brand drug when a patient asks for it specifically. "Doctors are often evaluated on how satisfied their patients are—it's easier to say yes than risk a negative evaluation. They tend to have packed schedules, and it takes less time to write the brand-name prescription than it does to explain why the generic will do just fine. And some are influenced, consciously or not, by their interactions with drug company representatives," writes Harvard Health.

In fact, the study's findings on what influences a prescription may give you pause about accepting what the doctor ordered. "Doctors who took free drug samples, were paid for pharmaceutical company speaking or consulting, or received food, gifts, or travel reimbursement from a pharmaceutical company" were more likely to write a prescription for name-brand products, the study found.

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Even if your prescription is already written, you can still get generics at the pharmacy.

Man buying something from pharmacist with mask on

Just because your doctor has already written a name-brand prescription doesn't mean you're obligated to fill it with the name-brand version. "In most states, a doctor has to write 'brand only' on the prescription if he or she does not want you to have a generic," explain the experts from Harvard Health.

Talk to your doctor or pharmacist today for more information on how to safely save on your medication.

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Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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