Doctors use this software during patient visits. Now Big Pharma is tapping it to sell their drugs

Doctors had to agree to the new feature in the Telus software before it was enabled on their systems, and physicians can opt out at any time.

But some physicians may not realize the implications of the vouchers when they click to accept the software’s updated features, said Dr. Antony Gagnon, manager of the pharmacy program with the Hamilton Family Health Team.

“The brand name companies are basically using physicians to redirect their prescriptions of generic drugs to the companies’ brand drugs,” Gagnon said.

In an internal document obtained by the Star, the head of Ontario’s doctor regulator, speaking generally, said vouchers being included on a prescription is “not appropriate” as they may lead patients to think their physicians favour brand drugs over generics.

Generics contain the same medical ingredients and can cost as little as one-fifth of the brand price. A former assistant deputy health minister, Helen Stevenson, said the vouchers can pile unnecessary costs on to private drug plans. These costs could ultimately be passed to the patient through higher premiums.

In an interview, Telus Health President Paul Lepage defended the program, saying thatelectronic vouchers streamline payment assistance programs already “used by millions of Canadians who really use them to reduce the cost of their medication.”

In the past, drug company reps gave paper vouchers to physicians who in turn could hand them out to the patient.

With the updated software, the voucher can be printed right on the patient’s prescription.

“Our physician customers who use these programs have asked us if we can simplify the process,” said Lepage of Telus. “We’re focused on offering cost-effective solutions to physicians and patients.”

The voucher function has been “very positively received by the majority of our physician users,” a Telus spokesperson said.

Why do brand name companies offer these vouchers?

In an effort to keep costs down, many drug plans encourage…

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