Few data exist on the presence of drug samples in health care facilities. Although the use of drug samples has potential benefits, this practice is also controversial, as it can contribute to non-optimal drug use. The objective of this study was to evaluate the inventory of drug samples in a health care institution and to determine compliance with existing policies and procedures.
This descriptive observational study was conducted in a university hospital centre from October 18 to November 1, 2007. A standardized data collection form was used for a physical inventory, which was intended to identify all drug samples available in the institution. The following information was recorded: number of locations where drug samples were found, primary patient care activity performed at each location, number of storage areas in the location, type of storage, presence of a lock, location of the key (if a lock was present), medical specialty, number of physicians and nurses likely to use the samples, reasons given for handing out samples, presence of a designated person to manage the samples, physical inventory (i.e., various details for each distribution unit), and declaration of samples to the pharmacy department. The inventory was conducted by 2 research assistants during day shifts.
A total of 84 locations were included in the inventory, and drug samples were found in 21 locations (with a total of 31 storage areas). All of the locations were intended for ambulatory patients (outpatient clinics and day centres). No drug samples were found in inpatient care units. The drug samples, which came from 62 different pharmaceutical companies, represented a total of 159 generic entities and 266 different brands. Of the distribution units for drug samples that were identified during this inventory, 59% were not on the hospital’s local formulary. Furthermore, only 3.5% of the distribution units had been declared to the pharmacy department, in accordance with established policy. The sample distribution units, including expired units, totalled 78 955 doses, with a total value of Can$48 783 (based on unit prices in effect in October 2007).
This study presents an inventory of drug samples in an urban health care institution and reports compliance with the institution’s policies and procedures regarding drug samples. Samples were found only in outpatient clinics and represented 2.4 times the hospital’s floor stock of medications. Most of the samples inventoried were not listed on the hospital’s formulary. It appears that the use of drug samples is underestimated in hospital settings. Further studies are needed to evaluate the importance of drug samples and the risks associated with their use.