This is just wrong — drug companies are apparently keeping records on each of us to find out what medications we’re taking and which doctors are prescribing those medications. The implication is that if the doctor doesn’t prescribe enough medicine for us the drug makers may have a talk with the doctor.
This situation was detailed in a lengthy article in the New York Times. Here are the opening paragraphs:
In the old days, sales representatives from drug companies would chat up local pharmacists to learn what drugs doctors were prescribing. Now such shoulder-rubbing is becoming a quaint memory — thanks to vast databases of patient and doctor information being used by pharmaceutical companies to market drugs.
The information allows drug makers to know which drugs a doctor is prescribing and how that compares to a colleague across town. They know whether patients are filling their prescriptions — and refilling them on time. They know details of patients’ medical conditions and lab tests, and sometimes even their age, income and ethnic backgrounds.
The result, said one marketing consultant, is what would happen if Arthur Miller’s Willy Loman met up with the data whizzes of Michael Lewis’s “Moneyball.” “There’s a group of geeks, if you will, who are running the numbers and helping the sales guys be much more efficient,” said Chris Wright, managing director of ZS Associates, which conducts such analyses for pharmaceutical companies.
Drug makers say they are putting the information to good use, by helping a doctor improve the chances that their patients take their medications as prescribed, or making sure they are prescribing the right drug to the right patients.
Some doctors, however, expressed discomfort with the idea of sensitive data being used to sell drugs, even though federal law requires that any personally identifiable information be removed. “I think the doctors tend not to be aware of the depths to which they are being analyzed and studied by people trying to sell them drugs and other medical products,” said Dr. Jerry Avorn, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and a pioneer of programs for doctors aimed at counteracting the marketing efforts of drug makers. “Almost by definition, a lot of this stuff happens under the radar — there may be a sales pitch, but the doctor may not know that sales pitch is being informed by their own prescribing patterns.”
The research firm IMS Health has tracked information about which drugs doctors prescribe since the 1990s, and over the last decade, the list of available information has expanded to include insurance claims data, which yields a trove of intelligence about patients’ medical diagnoses and insurance coverage. Additional details about patients, including income, education and ethnicity, can also be available.
One company, SDI Health, promises to provide clients with “actionable analysis” by tracking people — on an anonymous basis — as they move through the “patient experience.” That includes, according to their Web site, filling prescriptions at a pharmacy, visiting a doctor, being admitted to the hospital and undergoing lab tests.