Electronic health record (EHR) systems are used by clinicians to record patients’ medical information, and support clinical activities such as prescribing. In England, healthcare professionals are advised to ‘prescribe generically’ because generic drugs are usually cheaper than branded alternatives, and have fixed reimbursement costs. ‘Ghost-branded generics’ are a new category of medicines savings, caused by prescribers specifying a manufacturer for a generic product, often resulting in a higher reimbursement price compared with the true generic.


To describe time trends and practice factors associated with excess medication costs from ghost-branded generic prescribing.

Design and setting

Retrospective cohort study of English GP prescribing data and EHR deployment data.


A retrospective cohort study was conducted, based on data from the database from May 2013 to May 2019. Total spending on ghost-branded generics across England was calculated, and excess spend on ghost-branded generics calculated as a percentage of all spending on generics for every CCG and general practice in England, for every month in the study period.


There were 31.8 million ghost-branded generic items and £9.5 million excess cost in 2018, compared with 7.45 million ghost-branded generic items and £1.3 million excess cost in 2014. Most excess costs were associated with one EHR, SystmOne, and it was identified that SystmOne offered ghost-branded generic options as the default. After informing the vendor, the authors monitored for subsequent change in costs, and report a rapid decrease in ghost-branded generic expenditure.


A design choice in a commonly used EHR has led to £9.5 million in avoidable excess prescribing costs for the NHS in 1 year. Notifying the vendor led to a change in user interface and a rapid, substantial spend reduction. This finding illustrates that EHR user interface design has a substantial impact on the quality, safety, and cost-effectiveness of clinical practice; this should be a priority for quantitative research.