Local physicians were strongly in favor of a federal appeals court decision supporting a New Hampshire law that aims to block the use of data on physician and other clinician prescribing patterns for drug marketing.
The ruling, which disappointed drug data-miners and thrilled privacy advocates, overturned a trial-court decision and spills over into another closely watched case. The decision by the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston will establish a legal precedent in a lawsuit by data-miners in Maine, where a similar law was overturned by a federal court there.
We were disappointed with the first decision at the District Court level, but our attorney general (Kelly Ayotte) firmly believed in taking it to the next level, and were glad she did, said Palmer Jones, executive vice president of the New Hampshire Medical Society. Half of the docs in the country dont even know that when they write a prescription, that pharmacy company sells that information to data-mining companies, Palmer said. Once they understand that, its overwhelming.
The ruling for New Hampshire, though, will not have as strong an influence on a third such law in Vermont, which also is tied up in federal court, because it is in a different federal circuit, according to Maine state Rep. Sharon Treat. She also serves as executive director of the National Legislative Association on Prescription Drug Prices, a nonpartisan organization of state legislators looking to lower prescription drug prices.
The plaintiffs in the New Hampshire case were data-miners IMS Health and Verispan, which was subsequently sold to privately held data-miner SDI Health. Briefs in support of the plaintiffs position were filed by the eHealth Initiative, the National Alliance for Health Information Technology, the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, SureScripts (now SureScripts-RxHub) and Wolters Kluwer Health. The plaintiffs argued that the state law infringed on their free-speech rights.
In a joint statement by IMS Health and SDI, the companies said: We are disappointed with the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals decision. Two federal courts previously have examined the issue and validated the view that the First Amendment protects the dissemination of prescriber-identifiable data, which we believe is vital to efforts to improve the quality, efficiency and safety of our healthcare system. We are currently reviewing the decision and evaluating potential next steps.
The New Hampshire law is the broadest of the three New England laws, limiting the commercial use of records relative to prescription information containing patient-identifiable and prescriber-identifiable data to the limited purposes of pharmacy reimbursement; formulary compliance; care management; utilization review by a healthcare provider, the patients insurance provider or the agent of either; healthcare research; or as otherwise provided by law.
Pam Dixon, executive director of San Diego-based World Privacy Forum, a not-for-profit privacy advocacy group, said the decision in the New Hampshire case sets a critical precedent.