Magazine article Drug Topics

Pharmacy Data-Mining: Physicians, Independent Pharmacists Sound Off

Magazine article Drug Topics

Pharmacy Data-Mining: Physicians, Independent Pharmacists Sound Off

Article excerpt

As expected, the U.S. Supreme Court recently struck down a landmark case that would have prohibited a^ta-mining companies from selling physicians' prescribing information to pharmaceutical manufacturers for use in marketing. Still, some independent pharmacists say they are not in favor of the practice. In the landmark commercial free-speech case William H. Sorrell, Attorney General of Vermont, et al, v. IMS Health Inc., et al., the court considered the constitutionality of a Vermont law banning the use of physicians' prescribing history in the marketing of drugs.

This is how the practice works. Retail pharmacies sell information about the prescriptions they fill to data-mining companies such as IMS Health. Then, according to a recent editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine, the prescribing information of individual doctors can be associated with the Physician Masterfile of the American Medical Association (AMA), linking physicians with the types of drugs they prescribe. The information is then sold to pharmaceutical manufacturers, who use the data to market specific drugs to the offices of certain doctors.

Even though patients' names are not transferred in this data-mining process, the authors of the editorial do not believe the practice should be allowed. Pharmacists who spoke with Drug Topics agreed.

Driving up costs

"We are concerned that such selling of prescribing data to pharmaceutical companies results in the manipulation of physicians' drug-prescribing practices, unwarranted intrusion into the privacy of the doctor-patient relationship, and an increase in costs at a time when our health care system is under unprecedented financial strain," wrote Gregory Curfman, MD, and other physicians in the May 26, 201 1, issue of NEJM. Curfman is assistant professor of medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Data mining can increase healthcare costs because drugmakers use the information to increase sales of costly branded drugs over affordable generic alternatives, said the editorial. In addition, retail pharmacies, data-mining companies, drug manufacturers, and the AMA profit from buying and selling patient information.

"In the end, the costs are passed along to patients, and physicians' prescribing practices are manipulated by drug salespeople who know the details of their interactions with their patients," wrote Curfman et al. …

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