Background: Generic versions of a drug can vary in appearance, which can impact adherence.
Objective: To assess the preferences, perceptions, and responses of patients who experienced a change in the appearance of a generic medication.
Design: Cross-sectional survey of patients from a large commercial health plan.
Participants: Adults receiving generic versions of lisinopril, fluoxetine, lamotrigine, or simvastatin who experienced a change in the color or shape of their pills between March 2014 and November 2015.
Main measures: Likert-scale responses to questions concerning perceptions of generic drug safety and effectiveness, reliance on and preferences for pill appearance, and responses to pill appearance changes. Multivariable logistic regression-modeled predictors of seeking advice and adjusting use following a pill appearance change.
Key results: Of 814 respondents (response rate = 41%), 72% relied on pill appearance to ensure they took the correct medication. A similar percentage wanted their pills to remain the same color (72%), shape (71%), and size (75%) upon refill, but 58% would not have paid a $1 premium on a $5 co-pay to ensure such consistency. Most respondents (86%) wanted their pharmacists to notify them about pill appearance changes, but only 37% recalled such notification; 21% thought they received the wrong medication, and 8% adjusted medication use. Younger respondents (18-33 vs. 50-57 years) were more likely to seek advice (odds ratio [OR] = 1.91; 95% confidence interval [CI],1.02-3.59), and respondents with lower household income (< $30,000 vs. > $100,000) were more likely to adjust medication use (OR = 3.40; 95% CI,1.09-10.67).
Conclusions: Requiring uniform pill appearance may help increase adherence but presents challenges. Standardized pharmacy notification and education policies may be a more feasible short-term solution.
Keywords: chronic diseases; medication adherence; pill appearance; survey.