Background: The provision of free prescription medicine samples is a common and traditional marketing strategy used by pharmaceutical companies, but concerns have been raised about their influence on physician prescribing behavior and patient safety.
Objective: We sought to investigate the knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors of Australian family physicians regarding the use of sample prescription medications.
Methods: Qualitative and quantitative techniques were used, including (1) mailed questionnaires to family physicians, (2) semistructured interviews with family physicians, and (3) sample cupboard inventories.
Results: A number of issues about samples were identified by the questionnaires (208) and interviews (17 doctors), including insufficient labeling, poor record keeping, diversion of stock (personal use by doctors, their families, practice staff and pharmaceutical representatives), and wasting of expired stock. Prescription medicine samples also influenced prescribing behavior. Australian doctors were less likely to provide samples to patients on financial grounds compared with a previous study in the United States on medical residents. Six sample cupboards were inventoried. Median wholesale value of sample cupboards was AUD Dollars 4959 (range Dollars 2395-Dollars 8709), with 6% of stock expired. Very little generic medicine was included in the sample cupboards.
Conclusions: Better methods are needed to meet legislative requirements and to ensure quality use of medicines (and optimal public health) with respect to prescription medicine samples. Doctors and practice staff require training on the appropriate handling and storage of prescription medications. Alternative ways for distribution of sample medications need to be investigated.