AMA Criticized for Online Physician Database Venture
American Medical Association is receiving criticism for a "business deal" that enables drug companies to access an online physician database and "target specific doctors" for advertising pitches, the
AP/Washington Post reports. The AMA this fall announced a joint venture with Acxiom Corp. to create a new Web-based business called HealthCarePro Connect, which combines the AMA's master list of about 650,000 physicians with Acxiom's "software expertise in customer profiling." The program enables physicians to specify what type of drug information they prefer to receive, weeding out "unwanted pitches" from pharmaceutical companies. AMA President-elect Richard Corlin said that under the HealthCarePro system, physicians "will have more control over when and how their information is used." The venture is not yet in operation, but critics already are concerned that it will lend drug companies "greater access to physicians at a time of heightened public concern about privacy and medicine's potential conflicts of interest with industry," according to the AP/Post. Arthur Caplan, director of the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Bioethics, said the deal "appears to encourage high-powered marketing of potentially biased information to doctors." He added, "Accelerating the ties at a time when more people are expressing concern about privacy and confidentiality about the doctor-patient relationship in an age of huge databases is not the most prudent course they could be taking." He advised the AMA to "avoid any perception of a conflict of interest," especially after losing face in the 1997 Sunbeam Corp. debacle (AP/Washington Post, 11/14). The AMA had agreed to endorse Sunbeam products, but the resulting controversy caused the AMA to abandon the deal, resulting in a $10 million suit by the corporation (
California Healthline, 8/98). John Lantos, a pediatrician and medical ethicist at the University of Chicago, warned that the AMA "is once again treading close to the border of ethical propriety." The AMA has not disclosed how much revenue it expects from the business venture (AP/Washington Post, 11/14).