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Switching To Generic Drugs Instead Of Brand Name Ones May Save Billions Of Health Care Dollars

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The U.S. can save billions of health care money if drug prescription switched from brand name to generic drugs, a new research has suggested.

In 2015 alone, U.S. drug spending on prescription drugs increased by 8.5 percent and is predicted to hit $1.4 trillion in 2020. Moreover, patients shouldered a large percentage of the $73 billion spent on branded drugs because of inefficient drug prescribing, researchers said.

Lead author Michael Johansen from the Ohio State University suggests that doctors should practice therapeutic substitution, wherein they prescribe generic drugs that offer the same effect, but at a more affordable price.

To determine how much savings could be derived from therapeutic substitutions, Johansen worked with Caroline Richardson of the University of Michigan to examine a 2010-2012 Medical Expenditure Panel survey of 107,132 drug users.

They found that as much as 62 percent of the respondents use prescription drugs, with approximately one-third receiving prescriptions that can be substituted with suitable within-class medications.

If doctors practiced efficient drug prescribing, the health care industry could have saved $73 billion in spending, of which almost $25 billion came from patients' pockets.

Johansen said doctors must coordinate for therapeutic substitution to work - a sentiment echoed by JAMA Internal Medicine associate editor and Yale University associate professor Joseph Ross.

He said that many doctors opt for branded medications because their names are easier to recall and prescribe. However, Ross does not discount the fact that within-class substitutions may not work all the time, making cooperation and coordination among doctors a must.

"To achieve the benefits of within-class substitution, we need wider adoption of systematic protocols, aligned with physician judgement, as to when such substitutions are beneficial and when not," Ross wrote in an editorial.

Johansen believes that imposing therapeutic substitution will take a lot of work, but acknowledged that policy efforts will ultimately help reduce costs.

The study was published in JAMA Internal Medicine on May 9.

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