The fact that generic drugs are often a different color and/or shape from brand name medications appears to reduce medication compliance, according to a new study.
In an effort to control health care costs, use of generic medications is frequently encouraged or mandated. Generics currently account for more than 70 percent of prescriptions dispensed.
Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital discovered some patients who receive generic drugs that vary in their color are over 50 percent more likely to stop taking the drug, leading to potentially important and potentially adverse clinical effects.
The study may be found online in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine.
“Pill appearance has long been suspected to be linked to medication adherence, yet this is the first empirical analysis that we know of that directly links pills’ physical characteristics to patients’ adherence behavior,” said Aaron S. Kesselheim M.D., J.D., M.P.H., principal investigator of this study.
“We found that changes in pill color significantly increase the odds that patients will stop taking their drugs as prescribed.”
In the study, researchers compared compliance for brand-name and generic anti-epileptic drugs and calculated the odds that patients who did not refill their medication had been given pills that differed in color or shape from the prior prescriptions.
Researchers discovered compliance, or patient’s use of the drug, often significantly declined when refill prescriptions included pills of a different color. Interruptions in antiepileptic drug use for even a few days can raise the risk of seizure and have important medical and social consequences for patients.
These findings offer important take-home messages for physicians, pharmacists, and patients.
As Kesselheim said, “Patients should be aware that their pills may change color and shape, but that even differently appearing generic drugs are approved by the FDA as being bioequivalent to their brand-name counterparts and are safe to take.
“Physicians should be aware that changes in pill appearance might explain their patients’ non-adherence. Finally, pharmacists should make a point to tell patients about the change in color and shape when they change generic suppliers.”
Medication compliance is a complicated issue, but researchers believe improved conformity in pill appearance among bioequivalent brand name and generic drugs may offer a relatively simple path to better adherence.
Source: Brigham and Women’s Hospital