In response to reader comments on Joseph Conn's "Data-miners unite in Maine to block 'opt-out' Rx law":
Terry Nugent accuses the Maine Prescription Restraint Law's proponents of lies, but his comments themselves are spiked with inaccuracies and baseless claims. The National Physicians Alliance, an organization that supports the Maine law, has never claimed that patient information is sold. Nor is it our "hidden agenda" to make medical marketing illegal. Our aim is to limit inappropriate medical marketing.
Prescription data-mining does not save money. Prescriber records are a powerful tool for marketers, and data-mining leads to increased prescribing of the newest, most expensive medications. This practice has been systematically in place since 1990 and costs have steadily risen. In 2006, pharmaceutical marketing to physicians surpassed $23 billion per year. As a former drug representative noted, "to know what a doctor writes gives the rep the upper hand in mentally preparing responses to objections and for crafting presentations in general."
While it is true that the American Medical Association has an opt-out program in place, many physicians are unaware of it. Those who do opt out can only do so for three years, and then must remember to renew. The better solution would be to create an "opt-in" program for those who wish to have their data sold to marketers. It is also critical to note that the AMA benefits financially from data-mining, having received $44.5 million in 2005 from sales of data from their Physician Masterfile. Yet even without the Masterfile, companies will be able to obtain some information from pharmacies about physicians' prescribing practices. Thus, more global protection is needed.
In 2001, a Kaiser Family Foundation study found that nearly three-quarters of physicians disapproved of the practice of data-mining. Like Marie Antoinette, Nugent seems to be out of touch with the will of the people.
Jean Silver-IsenstadtExecutive directorNational Physicians AllianceReston, Va. To submit a letter to YOUR VIEWS, click here. Please include your name, title and hometown.