Educating Patients on the Benefits of Generics


Independent pharmacist know that generic drugs are vital to their bottom line. 

Many patients have become accustomed to taking generic drugs. That’s no surprise, considering generics account for nearly 90 percent of prescriptions filled in the U.S.1

Even so, patients can still be confused or worried by the switch from a brand-name product to a generic equivalent — or as happens more often these days, from one generic equivalent to another.

Pharmacists can strengthen patient loyalty and ensure patients continue to adhere to their medications by clearly and proactively communicating the benefits and safety of generic products.

Pharmacists shouldn’t wait for patients to raise concerns. Instead, they can use substitutions as opportunities to proactively share some facts about generics.

Of course, the same logic applies when swapping one generic for another. Consider the patients’ perspective and imagine how they will feel when they get home, open up their medication and find a pill that is a different shape or color from the drug they are accustomed to taking.

With that in mind, here are three facts about generics that pharmacists can share to calm patient concerns:

  1. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) only approves generic pharmaceuticals that have the same active ingredient, strength, dosage and route of administration as the brand-name drugs they replace.2
  2. Generic pharmaceutical manufacturers must prove to the FDA that their products are bioequivalent — meaning the active ingredient or component in the generic drug becomes available at the same rate and extent as the brand-name product when delivered at the same dosage under similar conditions.3 There may be some variability in non-active ingredients between a generic and a brand-name product, but such differences would not be medically important.4
  3. All the manufacturing, packaging and testing sites for generic drugs must pass the same quality standards as those for brand-name drugs.5 In fact, some generic drugs are even made in the same manufacturing facilities as their brand-name counterparts.

Patients should know there is one primary difference between generics and their branded counterparts — cost. According to a report by the Generic Pharmaceutical Association (GPhA), generic drugs accounted for nearly 90 percent of U.S. prescriptions in 2014, yet these generic prescriptions made up less than 30 percent of total drug spending. The GPhA says that millions of patients throughout the U.S. saved $254 billion in 2014 thanks to generic drugs.6

For some patients, the cost savings experienced by moving from a brand name therapy to a generic can mean the difference between remaining on a prescribed therapy or abandoning their prescription in favor of paying a utility bill. In this way, generics can help improve patient adherence, resulting in better health outcomes.

“You Get What You Pay For” Doesn’t Apply to Generics

Consumers are generally conditioned to believe that a higher price equals a better product — even if that’s not necessarily the case. Many people would assume a $50 bottle of wine must taste far better than a $10 bottle, but on average people actually rate inexpensive wines the same or higher than their pricier counterparts.7

Similarly, the FDA emphasizes that the relatively low prices of generic drugs have nothing to do with their quality or effectiveness. As the FDA says (and as pharmacists can assure patients): “Generic manufacturers are able to sell their products for lower prices because they are not required to repeat the costly clinical trials of new drugs and generally do not pay for costly advertising, marketing and promotion."8

In addition, when branded drugs first hit the market, they are typically under patent protection, which shields their manufacturers from direct competition and allows them to recoup development costs and realize a profit by charging higher prices.

By contrast, generic drugs lack patent protection, which means that multiple manufacturers can win FDA approval to market functionally identical products. These manufacturers must then compete against each other for market share. That competition often drives down prices even further.

Independent pharmacies stand to gain from the lower costs and higher margins on generic pharmaceuticals. Factoring in supplier incentives can yield even greater returns as pharmacies seek the most affordable products. Since the prices and availability of generic pharmaceutical are often in flux, pharmacists need to partner with a supplier who can keep them informed and maintain product access.

Of course, a good wholesaler will try to minimize switches from one generic product to another. And when switches do take place, the supplier should notify the pharmacy. This should be seen by the pharmacist as an indication to advise patients about a change in therapy.

Nobody likes surprises. When swapping out one generic product for another, pharmacists should take the opportunity to explain the switch to the patient before she gets home, opens the bottle and wonders why the round blue pill she used to take has suddenly morphed into a green oval.

When product switches do occur, they offer independent pharmacies an opportunity to differentiate themselves by offering personalized attention. A little time, some friendly conversation and a consultative approach can go a long way to easing patient concerns over generics while strengthening personal connections with patients.

By reassuring patients that generics are as safe and effective as brand-name drugs — and that bioequivalent generics are functionally interchangeable — pharmacists can empower patients to feel confident in their medication therapy, ease the expense burden of prescription regimens and encourage the medication adherence that can help patients lead healthier lives.

1. Generic Pharmaceuticals Association. 2015 Generic Drug Savings Report. Retrieved February 12, 2017 from 
2. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (May 30, 2012). Facts About Generic Drugs. Retrieved February 12, 2017, from
3. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Food and Drug Administration, Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. (July 2002). Guidance for Industry: Bioavailability and Bioequivalence Studies for Orally Administered Drug Products — General Considerations. Retrieved February 12, 2017, from
4. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Facts About Generic Drugs.
5. Ibid.
6. Generic Pharmaceuticals Association. 2015 Generic Drug Savings Report. Retrieved February 12, 2017 from 
7. Vox Observatory (May 20, 2015). Expensive wine is for suckers. Retrieved February 12, 2017 from 
8. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Facts About Generic Drugs.

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