A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

4 tips to raise your Rx intelligence

Using time during doctor visits to ask questions is important. So, why not do the same with your pharmacist?

You can become a well-informed, more active member of your health care team and make cost-effective decisions about your medications when you tap into the advice of your pharmacist.

Holly Dillenbeck, a Marshfield Clinic pharmacist, offers four tips to help you be a smarter pharmacy consumer.

Generic doesn’t mean lesser quality

Woman reading through medication directions - Prescription intelligence

Generic drugs have the same active ingredients as brand name drugs.

Dillenbeck says pharmacists frequently are asked whether generic or brand name drugs are better.

“To control costs, doctors first usually prescribe older generic medications,” she said. “If the traditional therapies don’t work, doctors may prescribe a newer brand name drug.”

Often, the patient’s insurance will require a prior authorization for the newer more expensive medications.

“This means the doctor or doctor’s nurse may have to call your insurance or fill out paperwork before the insurance will decide if they will pay for the medication,” Dillenbeck said.

A big misconception among patients is that generic drugs are of lesser quality because their cost is lower.
No major difference exists between generic and brand name drugs, Dillenbeck said. Generic drugs have the same active ingredients as brand name drugs.

“They differ in the inactive or filler ingredients,” Dillenbeck said. “The FDA requires generic manufacturers to prove their drug has the same makeup as the brand name version.”

Generic manufacturers can produce and sell medications at lower costs because they usually don’t have excess cost of completing costly clinical trials, advertising and marketing. These factors add to the cost when a new drug goes on the market.

Dillenbeck says she rarely hears patients say they only want the name brand drug and will pay extra for it.

“As a pharmacist, I try to discourage that,” she said. “I tell them to at least try the generic first. Generic prescriptions usually cost 80 to 85 percent less than the brand name.”

Drug ads promote new medicines

Advertising for medications often promote products as new and “hot” and introduce expensive brand name drugs just hitting the market. Companies want patients to see the commercials or flyers and ask their doctor to prescribe the medications.

Drug companies also put ads on TV or in magazines without prior FDA approval. However, there are rules that must be followed, which is why ads must list the side effects and benefits of advertised medications a certain way.

Often, these newer advertised medications aren’t mentioned at the doctor’s office or pharmacy counter because of their expense. To help control cost, doctors may save prescribing these newer advertised drugs as a last resort.

Newer isn’t always better

Just because a drug is new, doesn’t mean it is better or safe for you.

Dillenbeck says older drugs have longer track records and had more time for patients and doctors to report side effects. New drugs usually have been tested on smaller groups of people who aren’t on many other medications and don’t have many combined health problems.

“I like to stand by an older drug because it takes time for a medication to establish its safety record,” she said. “Doctors may feel pressured to prescribe newer, more expensive medications due to drug advertising and the misconception that newer is better.”

Talk to your doctor or pharmacist

Your doctor or pharmacist is the best source of information when deciding the right medications for you.

Although drug advertisements may increase the cost of health care, Dillenbeck says consumers can become more educated and proactive about their health care by watching or reading drug advertisements. The ads can make you feel more comfortable and open about discussing private disease states like depression or erectile dysfunction with your doctor.

“Consumers need to be educated about these drugs,” she said. “Just because it is on TV, doesn’t mean it is safe.”

If you have questions about a prescription or a drug you are currently taking, contact your doctor or your local pharmacist.

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