Background and objectives: Many clinical educators feel that the availability of drug samples has an influence on the prescribing habits of residents. Therefore, many programs limit the availability of samples. This study compares the prescriptions written in three family practice residency programs with different policies on availability of drug samples.
Methods: We used a prospective observational design to compare three programs of similar size and curriculum but which differed in sampling policies. One program had no limitation of samples, one program limited samples to specifically approved drugs, and one program did not permit drug samples in the clinic. Carbonless duplicate prescriptions were collected and collated over the first 5 months of 1996, and prescribing of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) was monitored.
Results: There was a greater percentage of generic prescriptions and use of preferred NSAIDs but no decrease in the "cost per prescription" in the programs that limited or eliminated samples when compared to the program with an "open" sample policy. There was no statistically significant difference between the program with no samples and the program that permitted only approved drugs.
Conclusions: The elimination or control of available drug samples is associated with differences in the prescriptions written by family practice residents, but this effect is fairly small.