Variations in Patients' Perceptions and Use of Generic Drugs: Results of a National Survey

J Gen Intern Med. 2016 Jun;31(6):609-14. doi: 10.1007/s11606-016-3612-7. Epub 2016 Feb 16.


Background: Over 84 % of all prescriptions in the US are filled as generic drugs, though in prior surveys, patients reported concerns about their quality.

Objective: We aimed to survey patients' perceptions and use of generic drugs.

Design: Our survey (administered August 2014) assessed patients' skepticism about generic drug safety and effectiveness and how often they requested brand-name drugs. Chi-square tests and two-sample t-tests assessed associations between patient demographics and the outcomes.

Participants: Our sample frame was the CVS Advisor Panel, a national database of 124,621 CVS customers. We randomly selected 1450 patients with self-reported chronic conditions who filled at least one prescription in the prior 3 months.

Main measures: We assessed how often patients reported asking their physicians to prescribe a brand-name over a generic drug in the last year, and "generic skepticism," defined as not believing generic drugs were as safe, effective, had the same side effects, and contained the same active ingredients as brand-name drugs.

Key results: Of the 1,442 patients with valid addresses, 933 responded (65 % response rate) and 753 took the full survey. A vast majority (83 %) agreed that physicians should prescribe generic drugs when available, and 54 % said they had not asked their physicians to prescribe a brand-name drug over a generic in the past year. Most respondents considered generic drugs to be as effective (87 %) and safe (88 %) as their brand-name counterparts, and to have the same side effects (80 %) and active ingredients (84 %). Non-Caucasians were more likely than Caucasians to request a brand-name drug over a generic (56 % vs. 43 %, p < 0.01), and were also more skeptical of generic drugs' clinical equivalence (43 % vs. 29 %, p < 0.01).

Conclusions: We found a substantial shift towards more patients having positive views of generic drugs, but lingering negative perceptions will have to be overcome to ensure continued cost-savings and improved patient outcomes from generic drugs.

Keywords: FDA; generic drugs; patient survey.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Databases, Factual
  • Drug Costs / statistics & numerical data
  • Drug Prescriptions / statistics & numerical data
  • Drug Utilization / statistics & numerical data
  • Drugs, Generic / adverse effects
  • Drugs, Generic / economics
  • Drugs, Generic / therapeutic use*
  • Female
  • Health Care Surveys
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Health Services Research
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / statistics & numerical data
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • United States


  • Drugs, Generic