A Worldwide View of What People Buy…Whether They’d Switch…and What Drives Their Decisions

Around the world, patients face the “brand vs. generics” decision when purchasing prescription drugs—and there can be radical differences among countries in the choices they make and the reasons for their selections. To help understand what people buy and why—and how those patterns differ by geography—SSI conducted a patient study in 9 countries: the U.S., U.K., Germany, France, Japan, Australia, China, Singapore and Sweden.

Findings show that across the globe, brand name medications remain popular. A quarter of respondents report they recently purchased a brand name drug—and 27% say their most recent drug purchase included both a brand name and a generic medication. The U.S., however, shows a different picture. Thirty-eight percent of U.S. respondents indicate they most recently purchased a generic drug—far more than any other country and well exceeding the global total (17%). In contrast, only 4% of Swedish participants say that the medication they most recently purchased was generic.


When asked the main reason for choosing a generic, people around the world cite “the pharmacy automatically dispensed the generic” (31%), “cost” (25%) and “doctor recommendation” (21%) as the top three answers. The importance of those drivers, however, varies greatly by country. In Sweden, 66% select “the pharmacy automatically dispensed the generic” as their primary reason for purchasing a generic medication. Automatic dispensing is also the number-one reason for a generic purchase in France (51%) and Germany (34%).

Conversely, in Australia (52%), the U.S. (38%) and Japan (36%), cost is the main reason for a generic purchase, and few report automatic generic dispensing. In China (58%) and Singapore (52%), doctor recommendations drive generic purchasing.


Globally, 56% of patients now taking branded medications say they would switch to a generic, if one became available. The countries most willing to switch are the U.S. (68%), Australia (67%), Japan (66%) and France (65%).

In every country but France, “cost” is the main reason patients would switch to a generic. In France, cost runs second to the belief that “generics are equal to or better than brands.” (Relatively few in other countries share this same level of confidence in generics. Just 22% globally and 14% in the U.S. consider generics equal to or better than brands.)

When asked how much they’d need to save to make the switch, 73% of respondents globally say less than $15.00 a month. Thirty-eight percent say they would switch if they saved less than $5.00 a month.


Of participants who had switched to a generic drug after taking the brand, 80% are somewhat or very satisfied. In the U.S., 70% are very satisfied with the generic alternative. More than half of the respondents in Australia (67%) and the U.K. (53%) also are very satisfied with their generic medications.


Only 39% of patients globally indicate that their doctors or pharmacists had recommended switching to a generic. France, however, is a clear exception, with 74% of respondents reporting that a physician or pharmacist had suggested switching to a generic. Singapore (22%), the U.K. (20%) and Japan (20%) are at the opposite end of the spectrum, with relatively few respondents saying their doctors or pharmacists have urged them to try a generic.

When physicians or pharmacists do recommend switching, an overwhelming majority of patients—90% worldwide and 96% in the U.S.— follow that advice. Those saying they take their doctors’ guidance on switching range from 81% in Sweden to 98% in the U.K.


Over the next 18-24 months, many popular medications will be coming off patent. To understand the market impact, it will be critical to track patients’ intentions to switch and their drivers. In addition, it will be key to monitor likely physician and pharmacist recommendations, given the strong influence they have over patient decisions.


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