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Wis. hospitals scaling back on free drug samples

  • Associated Press
  • September 9, 2013 - 10:30 AM

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. — Health care organizations in northeastern Wisconsin are cutting back on providing free drug samples to patients, saying the practice leads to higher administrative costs and can conflict with a patient's best treatment options.

Some hospitals also are phasing out sales calls from makers of drugs and medical equipment, while others allow it on a limited basis to make sure their doctors stay up to date, the Sheboygan Press Media reported (http://shebpr.es/17kFsFC ).

The idea of a hospital receiving and giving out free samples may not seem expensive but there are hidden costs, said Samantha Tonn, the vice president of quality, risk and compliance for Prevea Health Services of Ashwaubenon. For example, about 30 percent of sample medications expire before they're given out, and the hospital has to pay to dispose of them.

Hospital officials also have to manage the inventory with heightened safety and security procedures, a process that costs staff time, said Dr. Mark Hallett, senior medical director for ThedaCare Physicians.

ThedaCare in Neenah no longer gives out free samples. It also prohibits drug representatives from making in-clinic visits.

Hallett said the practice of providing samples drives demand for more expensive brand-name medications, even if they're not the best prescription for the situation.

"Many times, established and often generic medicines would suffice for most people," he said. "Data shows out-of-pocket costs are higher for people who receive samples."

Aurora Health Care also disallows drug samples in general. Nancy Vogt, the company's director of compliance, agreed that prescriptions should be based on which drug is most appropriate, not which are most promoted.

Some organizations used to offer free samples to patients who couldn't afford them, but they've come up with other solutions. Bellin Health of Green Bay gives out vouchers instead, and ThedaCare is upgrading its cost-assistance program.

"Vouchers are easier to control. They don't expire and they don't walk off the shelf," said Amy Dettman, the vice president of Bellin's physician division. "You still need a prescription to go with it."

Some organizations differ on whether visits from pharmaceutical and medical-equipment sales reps should be allowed. ThedaCare is ending the practice, but Prevea and Bellin allow the visits on a limited basis. Tonn and Dettman said the sales reps can provide updated information and new research studies that help doctors make more informed decisions.

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