A growing number of physicians across the country are installing ATM-style machines in their offices to dispense generic drug samples to their patients. The purpose of the in-office machines is to counteract the effect of drug-sampling activities by the brand name pharmaceutical industry. Aetna Health Insurance gave a significant push to this trend by announcing a pilot project through which doctors in the Philadelphia area will be provided with the generic machines.
According to IMS Health, physicians received more than 1 billion branded drug samples last year3 for every person in the United Statesan 18% increase over 2003. Although doctors provided patients with $16 billion worth of free branded drug samples last year, critics of the practice say that such sampling limits opportunities for prescribing generic drugs that would be cheaper in the long term.
The generic-drug machines will be installed in the doctors' offices by MedVantx, a San Diego (Calif)-based company that specializes in promoting the use of generic medications with doctors and their patients in concert with health plans. The machines typically dispense 30-day supplies of medication for the treatment of a variety of conditions, including high blood pressure, depression, and diabetes.
According to officials at MedVantx, the average patient saves $150 annually per prescription when using a generic medication, compared with an alternative branded therapy. To date, the company's generic "vending machines" have dispensed 100,000 samples across 9 therapeutic classes, resulting in an estimated $15 million savings in patient out-of-pocket costs.