Physicians Oppose Use of Prescribing Data To Market Medications
Some physicians are lining up in opposition to a "common practice" in which pharmaceutical companies contract with data-mining companies to "track exactly which medicines physicians prescribe and in what quantities -- information marketers and salespeople use to fine-tune their efforts," the Washington Post reports.
The American Medical Association licenses information about physicians -- such as their names and the names and quantities of the medications that they prescribe -- to data-mining companies.
Pharmaceutical company sales representatives use the information to "zero in" on physicians who prescribe medications manufactured by competitors and "target them with campaigns touting their own products," the Post reports. In addition, pharmaceutical company sales representatives use the information to determine the effectiveness on their marketing efforts -- which can include office visits, meals and small gifts -- on targeted physicians.
Some physicians have criticized the practice as an invasion of privacy and maintain that "using such detailed data for drug marketing serves mainly to influence physicians to prescribe more expensive medicines, not necessarily to provide the best treatment," the Post reports.
Jean Silver-Isenstadt, executive director of the National Physicians Alliance, said, "We don't like the practice, and we want it to stop. We think it's a contaminant to the doctor-patient relationship, and it's driving up costs."
New Hampshire last year became the fist state to enact a law to ban the practice, but a federal judge recently ruled that the law violated the First Amendment. More than a dozen states have considered similar legislation this year, but the decision in the New Hampshire case "has raised new doubts about how effective legislative efforts ... will be," according to the Post.
In response to complaints from members, AMA last year began to allow physicians to "opt out" and prevent the distribution of their information to data-mining companies. More than 7,000 of the 800,000 AMA members have decided to participate in the policy, AMA said. Some physicians have criticized the lack of publicity for the policy by AMA and a requirement that members must renew their participation every three years.
Pharmaceutical and data-mining companies "argue that the practice has value far beyond the corporate bottom line" because access to the information "helps companies, federal health agencies and others educate physicians about drugs, track whether prescribing habits change in response to continuing medical education programs and promote higher-quality care," the Post reports.
Marjorie Powell, senior assistant general counsel for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, said, "If you don't have that information, then you are in a very difficult situation. There is no way you can implement the risk-management plan that the FDA ... is requiring you to implement in order to allow the drug to be on the market." Powell added that the information allows "more targeted marketing," which "lowers the total costs" of marketing efforts for medications.
Randolph Frankel -- a vice president at IMS Health, a data-mining company that challenged the New Hampshire law -- said, "We are about more information and more education, and not less." He said, "The vast majority of physicians welcome" pharmaceutical company sales representatives as "part of the overall educational process about drugs and their use."
Frankel added, "And any doctor in the country can close the door to these sales reps. It doesn't require legislation to do that" (Lee, Washington Post, 5/22).