Do Pharmacists Prefer Generics or Branded Drugs for Self-Treating Health Problems?

Personal preference influence pharmacist recommendations for a host of conditions.

A cross sectional study found pharmacists prefer generic drugs over brand name over-the-counter (OTC) drugs for self-treating common health symptoms.

For the study, researchers sent out an online questionnaire to pharmacists registered in a single Southwestern state in the United States. The questionnaire was available for 8 weeks from December 2014 to January 2015 and had 2 follow-up reminders at week 4 and 6.

There were 553 licensed pharmacists given the questionnaire who were believed to have expertise in the use of brand name and generic OTC medications.

The questionnaire explored preferences based on various health symptoms. There were 9 health symptoms, which included aches, allergies, acid reflux, constipation, cough, daytime cold and flu, nighttime cold and flu, insomnia, and pain. There were 31 brand-generic medication pairs to determine pharmacist preference for brand and generic drugs.

The symptoms and associated medications chosen for the survey were derived from the 2012 OTC Medication Survey that asked pharmacists how many times per week various categories of OTC medications were recommended. Medications recommended at 10% and greater for each of the 9 symptoms were used in the questionnaire to exclude the less common medication pairs.

Chi-squared tests were conducted to determine if there were any significant differences between type of OTC medication based on general demographic characteristics, health symptoms, and health status, while ANOVA was conducted to determine the differences in the likelihood of taking OTC medications based on the health symptoms.

Prior to the survey being closed, a total of 553 participants responded. Throughout the survey period 148 people opted out from responding to the survey.

The results of the study showed that pharmacists overall and across all health symptom categories preferred the generic OTC medications (62%) compared with the brand OTC medications (5%).

The questionnaire results indicated that the overall mean rating for the likelihood of using OTC generic medications when presented with almost all health symptoms was 7.3 (quite likely), except for insomnia, which had a mean rating of 4.8 on a scale where 10 equaled very likely.

Some limitations to the study were sample only taken from pharmacists licensed in a single Southwestern state; time constraints on survey only being available for 2 months; list of medications were only those commonly used instead of all possible medications; and the survey questions asked the participants’ preference over taking brand or generic OTC drugs, instead of their actual behavior.

The study findings indicate that pharmacists prefer generic medications across the 9 health symptoms and that they prefer them over brand medication for their own self-treatment — supporting the theory that experts have enough information to make an informed decision.

Future research could include pharmacists’ families to see which treatment option they recommend for their family members.