When you go to the grocery store you have a choice to make when you purchase almost every product. You can buy the more expensive brand name item (Kellogg, Pillsbury, Pepsi, etc.). Or, you can purchase the generic brand version. The store brand, or generic brand, looks and tastes like the brand name. Only, it costs less and saves the customer money. The same can be said when discussing medication. The same is true of brand name and generic medicine.

Most of the time, patients are given the generic brand of a medicine.

Many of your patients have questions about the differences between generic medicines and brand name medicines. Because patients are not aware of the pharmaceutical values within both generic and name brand medicines, it is your job to provide them an answer to their question.

Knowing the differences, if any, between generic and brand name drugs will help you explain them to your patients.

The Basics Of Brand Name and Generic Medicine

A generic drug is a medicine created to be the same as a brand-name drug that already exists in the market.Generic brands are defined more by the characteristics of the product rather than the brand or company producing them.

Generic and brand medicines must be available in the same forms for consumption as brand name drugs. Meaning, if a brand name medicine is created in liquid form, so must the generic medicine brand. If pill form is how a brand name drug is created, the generic version must also be in pill form.

Typical ways of taking a medicine include orally, inhalation, liquid, tinctures and by injection.

Examples of the most common medications prescribed by physicians in their generic versus brand naming including the following: Metformin for diabetes is the brand name of Glucophage; Coumadin’s generic name is Warfarin; Blood pressure can be reduced by Losartan, the generic version of Cozaar; and treating hypothyroidism can be done with levothyroxine, generic for Synthroid.

These are just a few of the hundreds of medications with both generic and name brand varieties. Names are not the only differences. Generic and brand names have different production practices as well.

Production Differences

Companies that produce generic medicine can provide the same medication, with the same ingredients and characteristics, but at a lower cost.

Just because they have the same active ingredients, does not make them identical. The FDA does not require brand name and generic medicine to have the same inactive ingredients. These do not change the effect of the medicine or the active ingredients. They may be known as filler agents.

Inactive ingredients are important even though they do not produce any therapeutic effects. They are considered fillers, binders or coating. They can also be flavoring, coloring or stabilizers.

FDA Involvement

The Federal Drug Administration requires both generic and brand name medicines have the exact same active ingredients.  Active ingredients are biologically active. They are also known as bulk actives, active substances or active pharmaceutical ingredients.

Both generic medicine and brand name medicines must undergo and pass the same testing methods.

Clinical trials are performed in which the FDA oversees every step. The clinical trials involve humans taking a medication to see if it is safe and effective. There are usually three phases of testing.

If the medicine proves to have more benefits than side effects or negative reactions, it is approved for sale and consumption.

The FDA requires that generic medicine produce the exact same effects as the brand name drug. Meaning, it must be comparable in results the patient will see when taking the medicine. Side effects may also be comparable.

According to the FDA, generic medicine and name brand drugs can have different expiration dates. However, both drugs are required to be effective up until that expiration date.

This means a brand name can expire in one year and a generic version of the same medicine can expire in six months. But both must provide quality effectiveness until these dates arrive.


Prepackaged medication, especially generic medicine, do not focus on being the flashiest or most noticeable product. The focus is on quality of the medication, not outward appeal. Prepackaging companies take the original form of the medicine from the manufacturer and make it safer, not prettier.

Prepackaged medications provide the safest form of distribution. Many doctors and pharmacies are choosing prepackaged medications due to the precise labeling and ease of use. Those who are not using prepackaged medications may notice differences between generic medicine and name brand packaging.

Prepackaged medicines allow for ordering only the number of pills your patient needs and no more. This may help your patient continue their medicine even if the cost is higher.

Other Noticeable Differences

Brand name medicines are required to go through multiple and repeat studies on both animals and humans. This gets very expensive for the manufacturing companies. Therefore, the cost of a brand name medicine is much higher than that of generic medicine.

On top of this, the brand name manufacturers spend millions of dollars in production.

Generic medicine is not required to be involved in repeat studies or testing. This allows them to keep costs low.

Price differences between generic medicine and brand name drugs can be massive. Brand names can range from 25 to 75 percent higher than generic medicine brands. Therefore, insurance companies often require patients to use generic versions of a drug.

The labeling, however, must be the same. This includes warning labels. However, only brand name medicines are required to update their warning labels each time a new risk or side effect is discovered.

Strength is the amount of the active ingredient in each dose of the medicine. Federal law requires both brand name and generic medicines to be comparable in strength. Meaning, per dose, they have the same amount of active ingredients.

Knowing what makes one drug a brand name and the other a generic medicine can help you understand and explain to your patients why you are prescribing one over the other. Patients will appreciate the education you provide, and they can feel confident that both types of medications will improve their symptoms.