Pharma companies often provide some level of compassion supply of medications to patients who cannot otherwise afford them.  From what used to be “samples” that would be conveniently delivered to physicians’ offices or clinics, compassionate supply of medications has more recently transformed into sophisticated marketing programs, aimed to promote the corporate image, market specific brand and / or infiltrate new products into the health care setting.

Compassionate supply of medications now take many forms. The good old tradition may still exists where sales rep would drop off samples of medications at physicians’ offices. But more creative or savvy programs would invite physicians to register for programs online to qualify compassionate supply of medications for their patients. Through this process, the pharma companies may indirectly be able to track physicians’ interests in their products, analyze their behaviours on these websites and potentially linking their information with other database to gather more valuable marketing information.

Some programs are patient specific – patients may be invited to registered online, providing consents for their information before they can take advantage of the various support programs or financial assistance of prescription products. Sometimes the medication supply may be delivered to the physician’s office. In some cases, the pharma company may mail out pharmacy adjudication cards to patients to take advantage of the financial assistance directly at the pharmacy. Again, these programs may have hidden agenda to target patients for product promotion.

So how do you take advantage of these compassionate programs wisely?

The last thing you want to do is treat them like coupons / deals – that you would start prescribing the product because a compassionate program exists, or there is financial assistance available for the patient.

Here are few considerations to keep in mind when you want to take advantage of a compassionate program sponsored by the pharma company:

  1. Know your reason for needing a compassionate supply. Is it to have a trial of the therapy before asking your patient to commit to it financially? Is it to act as a bridging supply before insurance coverage begins?  The key is that rarely is anything free indefinitely. So if this is only to provide a short term solution for an important therapy that may not be started or delayed without this compassionate supply, then it is worth taking advantage of the compassionate program. If the patient cannot afford the medication in a long run, then it is also unethical for the clinician to begin and prescribe the therapy for the patient, even if a compassionate program exists.
  2. Look for sponsorship or partnership from non-profit organizations.  Some compassionate programs may be operated by non-profit organizations. These programs are usually designed with patients in mind first with less influence by pharma companies.
  3. Identify or recognize hidden agendas. Often compassionate programs exist for reasons beyond helping patients.  It may be designed to promote specific brands, introduce new products to the community, or encourage patient enrollment into clinical studies. If you understand what these hidden agendas may be, then you will have a better idea how to decide for your patients.  For examples, programs that offer financial assistance to a brand name medication may seem attractive. But if the brand name already has a generic alternative that is much cheaper, then there is indeed little benefit to prescribe the brand name drug in the first place.

There are many compassionate programs available for various prescription products. They may be invaluable to your patients who cannot otherwise have access to these prescriptions products. But it is important to still assess patient based on unbiased treatment guidelines, understand how the compassionate programs can help your patients and recognize hidden agendas behind these compassionate programs.

In my opinion, the best compassionate programs are often NOT well promoted. If your patient needs medication desperately and may benefit from a compassionate supply, it may be worth your effort to write a letter to the pharma company explaining your situation. These ad hoc requests may transform into something that is truly invaluable for your patients.

Thank you for reading my post.