Per the commentary in the Oct. 27, 2008 issue (Toeing the line, p. 20), if the answer is transparency, the germane and honest question is for whom? The revised Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America code (along with recent announcements by Eli Lilly and Co., Merck & Co. and others that they will make public their financial relationships with physicians), demonstrates the desire pharmaceutical companies have to embrace and comply with the spirit of transparency.
If its right and proper to know about gifts and payments to physicians so that we can judge their possible influence, shouldnt we also be allowed to know what physicians are actually prescribing? If manufacturers disclose the nature of their relationships with doctors, then we should also be able to scrutinize what the doctors are prescribing. The latter is needed to make the former meaningful. And to lobby for transparency/disclosure on the one hand and against it on the otherlike the Prescription Project is doing, is disingenuous at best.
Prescribing information can be used for a variety of applications that benefit our healthcare system, like better understanding of medical practice, geographic variation and quality of patient outcomes. Disclosing physician prescribing data doesnt compromise patient confidentiality and doctors (via the American Medical Associations Physician Data Restriction Program) have the opportunity to opt out of having their prescribing data shared.
To those seeking to restrict the use of prescriber-identifiable data like the Prescription Project, I say transparency is either there or its not. And as we endeavor to improve our healthcare system, more information, not less, is good public policy.
Cathy BetzVice president of government affairs Wolters Kluwer Health McLean, Va.