Drug switching in the Netherlands: a cohort study of 20 active substances

P.J. Glerum*, M. Maliepaard, V. de Valk, D.M. Burger, K. Neef

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background For a patient, drug switches are not desirable (either between a brand-name drug and a generic drug, or between two generic drugs of the same active substance). Research into the causes of drug switches, and related adverse drug reactions, is hampered by the absence of quantitative data on drug switches. Methods We describe the frequency of drug switches in the Netherlands for a selection of active substances. A retrospective cohort study was conducted using the Drug Information System of the National Health Care Institute in the Netherlands. We studied the Dutch patient population from mid-2009 to 2016. The selection of active substances (n = 20) was made based on a report by Lareb, the Netherlands Pharmacovigilance Centre, on adverse drug reactions related to drug switching, and we used qualitative and quantitative descriptive analyses. A drug switch is defined as the replacement of a patient's prescribed drug with a similar drug from a different manufacturer. Results We identified 23.8 million drug switches on a total of 206 million (11.6%) similar drug dispenses. The frequency of drug switches demonstrated a yearly peak in the period from January to March. In some months, for atorvastatin, losartan, pantoprazole, and irbesartan, more than 60% of similar drug dispenses were drug switches. Most drug switches (80.3%) were between two generic drugs, and 0.12% of these involved a drug from a European parallel import. The proportion of drug switches between two brand-name drugs decreased from 14.5 to 5.53% during our study period, and of these, 86.5% involved a drug from a European parallel import. Conclusions Drug switching is common in the Netherlands, and most of the drug switches we studied are between generic drugs. The observed annual peak of drug switches is most likely explained by a specific Dutch reimbursement policy. Not only are the data valuable as is, but they also serve as a first step towards elucidating the reasons for the occurrence of these drug switches. In addition, these data can be used to put into perspective the adverse drug reactions associated with drug switching.
Original languageEnglish
Article number650
Number of pages10
JournalBMC Health Services Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jul 2020


  • brand-name drugs
  • drug switching
  • europe
  • generic drugs
  • generic substitution
  • interchangeability
  • prices
  • Generic substitution
  • Brand-name drugs
  • Generic drugs
  • Interchangeability
  • Drug switching

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