Background: In Australia, brand substitution by pharmacists has been possible since 1994. There is no limit to the number of substitutions per prescription. Doctors have expressed concern that patients may receive a different product each time their prescription repeats are dispensed, which has the potential to confuse patients. It is unknown how often multiple substitutions per prescription occur.
Objectives: We aimed to identify the number of switches per prescription for a range of medicines and to determine the number of different brand and generic products supplied on each prescription.
Methods: Repatriation Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme prescription claims between 1 January 2001 and 28 February 2006 were identified for atenolol, citalopram, enalapril, metformin, omeprazole, ramipril, and simvastatin. Original prescriptions with five repeats and all supplies dispensed were included. Switches were identified if a different product was supplied on consecutive repeat dispensings.
Results: 533,279 original prescriptions were included. 488,735 (92%) had no switches on repeats and 37,513 (7%) had only one switch. Only 1% of all prescriptions had more than one switch identified on repeats, and in most cases only two different products were supplied. None of the prescriptions had a different product supplied on each dispensing.
Conclusion and Implications: Multiple switches per prescription are uncommon and multiple different products are rarely supplied on repeats of the same prescription. The rules of the brand substitution policy appear to be adequate in allowing brand choice for patients, without leading to multiple switches per prescription.