The United States Supreme Court recently struck down the Vermont law that prohibits the use of physicians’ prescribing data for pharmaceutical marketing. The practice known as “data mining” occurs when third party corporations purchase prescribing information from pharmacies and match it to individual doctors through a 44 million dollar deal with the AMA to utilize its physician master file. The third party corporations then sell this linked data to pharmaceutical companies to assist their detailers in their marketing efforts.
The Vermont law, passed in 2007, prohibited the sale or use of prescriber-identifiable information for marketing a prescription drug unless the prescribing doctor had consented. By a 6-3 margin, the justices doled out another victory for big corporations in the name of freedom of speech.
Nearly three-quarters of physicians disapprove of data mining (Kaiser Family Foundation 2001). It arms drug detailers with precise information about a doctor’s prescribing habits better enabling the detailer to hone his/her marketing message. It insidiously invades the doctor-patient relationship by including big pharma in the exam room during every prescribing encounter.
While this Supreme Court decision is disappointing, physicians are not without recourse. Individual physicians can opt out of having their information shared with third party purchasers by accessing the AMA’s Prescribing Data Restriction Program. More information on this opt out program can be found at For Sale: Physicians’ Prescribing Data in the New England Journal of Medicine. Even simpler is to not see drug detailers in our practices making the data purchased by pharmaceutical companies of no use.
The NPA has educational materials and resources available to doctors to help us navigate the conflicts of interest inherent in the doctor-pharma relationship. Doctors who wish to help reduce the influence of pharmaceutical marketing on medical practice can join the Unbranded Doctor network at the NPA. Though the Supreme Court has the power to strike down laws, it doesn’t control our ability as doctors to do the right things in our own practices to minimize the negative effects of drug reps and their unscrupulously mined data.