Coalition Urges American Medical Association to Halt Sale of Physician Data to Pharmaceutical Marketing Firms
Sale of the Physician Masterfile, a comprehensive database detailing the names, office addresses, practice type of almost every doctor in the United States, earns the AMA nearly $50 million a year in revenue. A significant portion of those sales are to health information organizations that then combine it with prescription information purchased from pharmacies to create profiles of doctors (a process known as prescription data-mining), which are then used in highly targeted physician marketing by pharmaceutical companies.
The AMA is currently holding delegate meetings, where a wide range of policies are reviewed; despite widespread disapproval of the AMA's members, an end to the sale of the Masterfile as recommended by these groups is not on the agenda.
"By selling physician data for marketing purposes, the AMA is giving the pharmaceutical industry a powerful tool to use in influencing physician prescribing decisions," said Robert Restuccia, executive director of The Prescription Project an initiative launched earlier this year with support from The Pew Charitable Trusts to reduce conflicts of interest in the medical profession. "Though the financial incentive to do so may be strong, the AMA has a professional and ethical obligation to work to limit the power of pharmaceutical marketing."
The highly targeted marketing that can be accomplished with information yielded by physician specific prescription data may be adding to the bottom-line for pharmaceutical companies and driving up costs for the nation's healthcare system. Retail spending on pharmaceuticals increased to $174 billion from 1995-2001, and 17% of that increase was attributed to a switch from cheaper to more expensive drugs.
"The pharmaceutical industry's practice of marketing drugs to doctors by creating prescriber profiles intrudes into the private doctor-patient relationship and affects the quality of patient care while driving up the cost of healthcare," said National Physicians Alliance President Lydia Vaias, MD. "Every physician in the country is subject to the sale of its data and the delegates to the AMA annual meeting should be outraged on their behalf."
Despite the fact that every physician's identifying data is sold to health information organizations, only 60 percent of physicians surveyed by the Kaiser Family Foundation were aware of the sale of their information. Once told, 74 percent disapproved and AMA's own physician survey found a similar 66 percent disapproval rate.
"As physicians, we should do all we can to combat the presence of the pharmaceutical industry that works hard to insert itself into important medical decisions," said Michael Ehlert, MD, president of the American Medical Student Association. "The American Medical Association should be a leader in ensuring that doctors are making prescribing choices based on science, not marketing."
The joint three-point call to action also urges state legislatures to follow the examples of New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine and prohibit the sale of physician-identified prescription data for pharmaceutical marketing purposes. Physicians are likewise encouraged to educate fellow doctors on the impact of data mining and to express their concerns over the use of their information for marketing practices to the AMA and state medical societies.
For a copy of the "Call to Action" please visit The Prescription Project website at www.prescriptionproject.org.
For more information on the National Physicians Alliance, go to www.npalliance.org.
For more information on the American Medical Student Association, go to www.amsa.org.
for The Prescription Project
Terence Burke, 617-901-1697
Posted: June 2007