Doctors rebel against snooping

Some doctors are finally getting upset about the fact that their prescribing records are handed directly to drug companies:
Although virtually unknown to consumers, the information has long been considered the most potent weapon in pharmaceutical sales — computerized dossiers showing which physicians are prescribing what drugs. Armed with such data, a drug sales representative can pressure a doctor to write more prescriptions for a name-brand medicine or fewer orders for a competitor's drug.
But now a rebellion is under way by some doctors, who consider the data-gathering an intrusion that feeds overzealous sales practices among the nation's estimated 90,000 drug company representatives. Public officials are also weighing in. A vote on a state bill to clamp down on the practice is scheduled for today in New Hampshire, and similar bills have been introduced in other states, including Arizona and West Virginia.
To appease the doctors and try to stave off the state restrictions, the American Medical Association will soon give individual physicians the choice of declaring their prescription records off limits to drug sales representatives. The new measure is viewed as a self-policing move that the drug industry and the A.M.A., which has lucrativecontracts with data-mining companies, hope will keep states from banning sales of prescription data altogether. [NYT]
When I worked in medical market research, I asked where all the prescribing data on doctors came from. My boss told me that the state governments collect this information through each doctor's prescribing number and give (sell?) the data to pharmaceutical companies. This New York Times article says that the A.M.A. keeps tabs on the prescribing habits of its members and sells the information to drug companies. Are there parallel data collection systems in place?

I do know that these records are amazingly detailed. They don't identify the patients, but they give the names and addresses of individual doctors. So, pharmaceutical companies can target sales pitches to the very man (or woman).

When a BMS or Sanofi rep calls on a doctor about the Avapro blood pressure pill, he or she has a little printout showing how many prescriptions that doctor has written for blood pressure drugs in general, for Avapro's competitors, for generics, etc. The reps strive to achieve what they call "an incremental A-to-B shift" in the doctor's prescribing behavior, which they can track from visit to visit. I know because I wrote some of the selling modules that tell reps how to badger a doc more effectively based on his or her prescribing record. Of course, reps are never supposed to let on that they have this information. Most doctors don't have a clue.

So, when the rep says, "Doctor, can I have your committment to prescribe Avapro for all your diabetic patients with hypertension?"--he or she knows whether the doctor actually follows through.

I don't think that a doctor's prescribing records should be available to drug companies unless the doctor specifically authorizes the use of this valuable information. The A.M.A. is selling out its membership.

[x-posted at Majikthise]

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