Wisconsin healthcare organizations cut back on free samples

Many hospitals and clinics in northeastern Wisconsin have stopped offering free drug samples, which they say increase administrative costs and often don't adequately address patient needs, according to the Associated Press.

Hospitals face hidden costs associated with giving out free samples, such as the expense of the disposing of expired samples (about 30 percent of samples expire before they can be distributed), according to the article.

"Many times, established and often generic medicines would suffice for most people," Mark Hallett, M.D., senior medical director for ThedaCare Physicians, told the AP. "Data shows out-of-pocket costs are higher for people who receive samples." ThedaCare has stopped distributing free drug samples and does not allow representatives of drug companies to make in-clinic visits.

Moreover, prescriptions should address which drug is most appropriate for a patient's needs, rather than which drugs are the most promoted, according to Nancy Vogt, director of compliance for Aurora Health Care. Aurora does not allow drug samples in general.

Some Wisconsin health systems have already phased out the use of drug samples in favor of alternative strategies. For example, Green Bay's Bellin Health uses vouchers. "Vouchers are easier to control. They don't expire and they don't walk off the shelf," Amy Dettman, vice president of Bellin's physician division, told the AP. "You still need a prescription to go with it."

A study published earlier this year by the Canadian Journal of Hospital Pharmacy indicated free samples "do not contribute to better patient care and should only be dispensed by retail pharmacies through a structured approach, with documentation of doses dispensed in the patient's record." The study warns stopping the practice on a larger scale presents logistical problems, such as the fact that physicians and medical residents may work in several different hospitals with varying drug sample regulations.

To learn more:
- here's the Associated Press article
- here's the study