Generic medicines literacy — minimising the potential for patient confusion

Andrew J McLachlan
Med J Aust 2010; 192 (7): . || doi: 10.5694/j.1326-5377.2010.tb03555.x
Published online: 5 April 2010

For generic substitution to be safe, consumers and clinicians need to fully understand what is the same or different about various brands of the same medicine

A main aim of the National Medicines Policy is to provide Australians with access to safe, high-quality medicines at prices consumers and government can afford.1 As such, generic medicines have an important place in health care. Consumers see generic medicines as an opportunity to access cheaper medicines, while governments see the opportunity to achieve the same health outcomes for patients at a lower cost. Clinicians, on the other hand, have mixed views regarding the role of generic medicines. Many pharmacists see generic medicines as an opportunity to reduce patient costs while maintaining effectiveness, whereas some prescribers express concern that generic medicines are not appropriate or equivalent alternatives in some therapeutic areas (eg, anticonvulsants) and that brand substitution is a challenge to their clinical decision making, with a significant risk of patient confusion.

  • Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Sydney, and Centre for Education and Research on Ageing, Concord Repatriation General Hospital, Sydney, NSW.

Competing interests:

I am a pharmacy academic who has acted as a paid consultant and education provider to manufacturers of innovator and generic medicines. I am currently a member of the Pharmaceutical Subcommittee of the Australian Drug Evaluation Committee and the Chair of the National Medicines Policy Committee.

  • 1. Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing. National Medicines Policy 2000. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia, 1999. (accessed Dec 2009).
  • 2. Ortiz M, Simons LA, Calcino G. Generic substitution of commonly used medications: Australia-wide experience, 2007–2008. Med J Aust 2010; 192: 370-373. <MJA full text>
  • 3. Kesselheim AS, Misono AS, Lee JL, et al. Clinical equivalence of generic and brand-name drugs used in cardiovascular disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA 2008; 300: 2514-2526.
  • 4. Therapeutic Goods Administration. Best practice guideline on prescription medicine labelling. Canberra: TGA, 2005. (accessed Dec 2009).
  • 5. Nutbeam D. Building health literacy in Australia [editorial]. Med J Aust 2009; 191: 525-526. <MJA full text>
  • 6. Pearce GA, McLachlan AJ, Ramzan I. Bioequivalence: how, why and what does it really mean? J Pharm Pract Res 2004; 34: 195-200.
  • 7. Hassali MAA, Stewart K, Kong DCM. A national survey on knowledge and perceptions of senior medical students in Australia about generic medicines [letter]. Med J Aust 2008; 188: 123-124. <MJA full text>
  • 8. Crawford P, Feely M, Guberman A, Kramer G. Are there potential problems with generic substitution of antiepileptic drugs? A review of issues. Seizure 2006; 15: 165-176.
  • 9. Birkett DJ. Generics – equal or not? Aust Prescr 2003; 26: 85-87.
  • 10. Hassali A, Stewart K, Kong D. Quality use of generic medicines [editorial]. Aust Prescr 2004; 27: 80-81.


remove_circle_outline Delete Author
add_circle_outline Add Author

Do you have any competing interests to declare? *

I/we agree to assign copyright to the Medical Journal of Australia and agree to the Conditions of publication *
I/we agree to the Terms of use of the Medical Journal of Australia *
Email me when people comment on this article

Online responses are no longer available. Please refer to our instructions for authors page for more information.