A few words on the how-much-did-Pfizer-spend-on-free-samples article in the Wall Street Journal:
Do you know anyone who has ever refused those free samples?
What’s your first reaction when you get a free sample? Is it: “Oh cool, thanks, Doctor. Now I don’t have to hit the pharmacy until later.” Or is it: “This is great. Let’s see how they work. Maybe I won’t need that higher dose.” Or is it: “Wow, thank you. I just don’t have the money right now.”
Did anyone ever say, “No, that’s okay, doctor. Give them to somebody else.”
Considering that some places, like Johns Hopkins, which has started to ban drug samples,
maybe that’s exactly what industry should do. Maybe the smart thing to do is for industry to continue spending this money on “samples” but only for new patients and those that remain adherent. Reward those who take care of themselves. Doctors could give these drugs to their patients who are taking their prescribed medicines. And not just a week’s worth – enough to see improved health outcomes, enough for patients to appreciate what being adherent means.
Patients adhere to the prescribed medication regimen less than 50% of the time, especially for disorders that may not have symptoms. We see this a lot in patients who are on anti-hypertensives and cholesterol lowering medicines. How many people do you know who've gotten a 10-day script for antibiotics, only to stop taking them after 3 days because they felt better? Their reasoning: Save them for the next time, save a trip to the doctor's. If improving adherence is about educating these patients, then the learning should come with the experience.
Patients will assume more responsibility for their own healthcare in the future. The delicate balance of providing care for those who need help versus those who do not appreciate help or care to change their behavior is always an issue. Drug samples are not currency in trade, they are a tool. Patients need to have that tool available through their physicians to improve their own well being. Maybe doctors should ask more patients if they want that drug sample -- especially from those people who continually suggest that drug samples do not benefit patients!
And about that $2.7 billion Pfizer spent on free samples – let’s keep it in perspective. Pfizer made more than $19 billion in 2007, $52 billion in revenues. We believe they are dedicating a large amount of that to new research -- which is what they are in business to do.