Germans Say They Prefer Low-Cost Drugs Over Brand

24 February 2010 (Last Updated February 24th, 2010 18:30)

About 90% of patients in Germany are willing to use a cheaper drug if their doctor explains it is as good as more expensive ones, according to Germany's public health director general. 70% are willing to use the cheaper version even if their doctor told them the more expensive version w

About 90% of patients in Germany are willing to use a cheaper drug if their doctor explains it is as good as more expensive ones, according to Germany's public health director general.

70% are willing to use the cheaper version even if their doctor told them the more expensive version was better.

Franz Knieps, in an interview with business journal McKinsey Quarterly, said new incentives introduced by his government aimed at bringing the cost of healthcare down have proved patients are willing to forego branding if they can be assured of a product's quality.

"This suggests to us that the incentives are having the desired effect – patients are complying with our efforts to control drug expenditures," Knieps said.

Reducing the amount spent on pharmaceuticals is part of Germany's plan to bring healthcare costs down.

Cost reductions are also being made using strict regional budget control and regulation on drug expenditure.

A disease management system, adapted from the American version, has also been introduced.

Germany, like the rest of the world, is trying to reduce healthcare costs as it faces the difficulties of an ageing population.

At the moment 20% of its 82 million population is over 65 – a figure expected to rise to 27% by 2030.

Healthcare costs have been rising recently by an average of 1.4% per year, making up around 10.4% of GDP.

In 2007 the German government spent €270bn ($364bn) on healthcare provision, an average of €3,100 ($4,209) per person.

Doctors in Germany are given cash incentives for taking on more patients while patients are rewarded for attending regular check-ups with lower drugs cost, so long as both follow the protocols set out, which include self care.

The scheme, aimed at tailoring care for each patient while documenting long-term effects to help doctors, is used for heart disease, diabetes and other chronic illnesses.

Knieps said encouraging competition was an important goal in a market where 90% of the population uses the universal healthcare package, which has been around in Germany since the 1880s and is one of the oldest in Europe.

"Our goal was to give pharmaceutical companies an incentive to concentrate on innovation and not simply to produce follow-on medications," Knieps said.

What care is available through the German system is monitored by the Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care, which is focused is on deciding what drugs can be cost effectively offered through the public system.

The public system also gives patients the option to choose their doctor and hospital. Although there are technically no waiting lists there can be delays if a specialist or prominent hospital is required.

Poly clinics are also more popular in Germany than in other parts of the world, having been popular in East Germany.

Knieps said he believes the cost of healthcare is unlikely to go down but what they can do is reduce the amount of money wasted.