Consumer should be centre of care when offering alternative medicine brands

NPS is reminding pharmacists to place patient care first and avoid multiple switching of medicine brands for patients who may be at higher risk of confusion from switching, as price disclosure arrangements come into effect this weekend.

NPS Head of Programs, Ms Karen Kaye, says that consumers always need to be at the centre of care when pharmacists give advice about medicine brand choices.

“It’s important people know that if they are offered an alternative brand of their medicine that it will be just as safe and effective as their original brand, however for some people the benefits of choosing a different brand, such as a lower price, may not be worth the drawback of an unfamiliar medicine packet,” says Ms Kaye. 

“One way to help patients who do consent to a switch is for pharmacists to use auxiliary label 15 which points out that the medicine replaces another, and that the patient should not use both.”

However, for people on multiple medicines or those likely to get confused about their medicines, such as older people, adjusting to a different-looking medicine with an unfamiliar packet and brand name can be difficult and may cause distress and/or medicines mishaps.

“There are also certain medicines, such as warfarin, as well as some medicines for certain conditions, such as epilepsy, thyroid conditions, and transplant rejection that should not be substituted without permission from the doctor.”

As part of Be Medicinewise Week, NPS has released a new quick question guide for consumers designed to help them make a safe and confident choice between medicine brands. Available on the NPS website, the 5 questions cover what consumers should ask their pharmacist when they are offered a different brand of their medicine so that they make the right choice for them.

New research from NPS* found that 74% of Australians who take a prescription medicine were offered an alternative brand of one of their medicines by their pharmacist the last time they purchased it. Of those offered a choice, 72% accepted the offer and purchased the alternative brand while 25% stayed with the brand they were originally prescribed.

“Ultimately the choice of medicine brand lies with the consumer but it’s important pharmacists always ensure the consumer is at the centre of care and that their individual circumstances are taken into account when discussing choice of medicine brand with them,” says Ms Kaye.

NPS has also been communicating with consumers to help them understand that a pharmacist can only offer an alternative brand of a medicine if it has been accepted by the regulatory body —The Therapeutic Goods Administration  — as being bioequivalent to — that is, it works in the same way as — the original brand.

“An important message for patients is that when the patent for a medicine expires, other companies can manufacture medicines containing the same active ingredient and dose as the original brand. This means both brands will have the same effect in your body,” says Ms Kaye.

“We always direct consumers to talk with their doctor, pharmacist or health professional if they are confused or unsure about which choice is best for them.”

5 questions to ask when you are offered an alternative brand of medicine

  1. Is it okay for me to choose a different brand of my medicine?
  2. What are the benefits and disadvantages for me if I use a different brand?
  3. Is there a difference in cost?
  4. Which of my usual medicines does this replace?
  5. What is the active ingredient in my medicine?

To find out more about generic medicines and informing patients about multiple brands, read NPS News 76 on the NPS website at

Information for your patients about making safe medicine brand choices is available on the NPS website at

If your patients have questions about their medicines they can also call the Medicines Line (1300 MEDICINE or 1300 633 424), Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm EST.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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