Without the proper controls, your drug sample closet could be a dangerous and costly liability.
The nurse may have had the best of intentions. Her friend’s son was sick and needed some medications. And the nurse had access to an overflowing closet of pharmaceutical samples at the office, so why not save her friend a trip to the pediatrician and the cost of the drugs? The sample closet is kind of like a really big personal medicine cabinet, a job perk, right? No one would miss a sample or two here and there.
But the medications the nurse swiped for the boy caused an adverse reaction, sending him to the hospital.
It’s not just a worst-case scenario. It happens, and if your office has an unmonitored sample closet, it could happen to you, potentially making you liable for the outcome.
A less harrowing scenario? You reach into the sample closet to help out a patient, expecting to find a recently stocked shelf, and like Old Mother Hubbard, your cupboards are bare.
“In some places it is a free-for-all,” says Cynthia Dunn, a senior consultant for MGMA Health Care Consulting Group.
Often no one is in charge of the sample closet, and some practices assume drug reps are managing the samples. “They don’t even notice stuff is missing,” says practice consultant Elizabeth Woodcock. That is, she adds, until a worst-case scenario happens.
Rising prescription drugs costs and increased government scrutiny has made stocking drug samples more risky for practices. Last fall, the Wisconsin Medical Society announced a tougher policy on samples, saying practices should limit how often they dole them out, and instead consider a voucher system; which would allow patients to obtain medications but shield the practice from the burden and liability of providing drug samples.
The decision to provide samples comes with responsibility. Of course you’re busy with a thousand other tasks - not the least of which is caring for patients each day - and strict controls on the sample closet might seem a little unreasonable. But there are simple ways to avoid a sample closet disaster and protect your patients, your employees, and your practice.
Having a sample closet in your practice without safeguards in place can expose the practice to a whole host of troubles. It’s not just potentially bad news for those who might steal or distribute the medicines (and their friends or family, for that matter), but it also could mean legal troubles for the practice. You could be sued for an adverse outcome from a sample, Schoppmann says, or risk losing your license or DEA registration. It’s a hefty risk, and not one your practice should take lightly. “When you have sample drugs,” Dunn adds, “you have some added responsibility.”
Sara Michael is an associate editor for Physicians Practice. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared in the October 2009 issue of Physicians Practice.