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Dispensing Machine Promotes Use of Generic Medications

Generic drugs are being dispensed in doctors' offices by devices that function much like automatic teller machines that banks use, under a program sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota. What the company is calling its Generic Delivery

Network has been launched in physician offices in Fargo and Grand Rapids with the aim of reducing costs attributed to the growing use of brand name prescriptions.

"These generic samples are paid for by the health plan without copays or deductibles as an inducement to have the member start on generic medications if they are appropriate," says Jon Rice, MD, vice president for medical management at the health plan.

The Generic Delivery Network relies on machines that dispense samples. Supplied to the health plan under a contract with a company called MedVantx, the machines dispense generic medications in nine therapeutic categories.

Doctors are assigned an identification number, says Rice. "That number and the patient information (either through the patient registration system or by scanning) is entered. This gives the doctor access to the medications in the machine. Appropriate labels for the medication and for the medical record are printed after the medication's bar code is scanned to confirm that it matches the request."

Rice says the health plan has installed four machines in some of the network's busiest primary care offices.

"These machines serve about 25 physicians," says Rice. "We are doing this as a pilot to see if and how prescribing practices change. Our generic utilization rate is already quite high. We are hoping this will drive it higher."

Physicians seem to like this experiment. "They have been very accepting and encouraging of having the machines available," says Rice. "They provide samples of products they would not otherwise have available in their offices, are very efficient (takes about 20–30 seconds), and it allows them to practice effective medicine."

Joel Haugen, MD, at the Dakota Clinic, can attest to that. "For the first time, our patients have immediate access to clinically appropriate generic medications."

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