Opinion Piece Criticizes Sale Of Physician Prescribing Data

Armen Hareyan's picture
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The American Medical Association should end the saleof information about physician prescription practices to pharmaceuticalcompanies, which use the data to market their products, RobertRestuccia, executive director of the Prescription Project, and Lydia Vaias, president of the National Physicians Alliance, write in a San Francisco Chronicleopinion piece. According to the authors, AMA sells information from adatabase called Masterfile to health information organizations, which"pair the identifying information with prescribing records frompharmacies" and sell the data to pharmaceutical companies.

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Pharmaceuticalcompany sales representatives use the information to "tailor theirpitches to each physician," a practice that has "resulted in new,costlier drugs replacing established medications that have provenhistories of safety and effectiveness," the authors write.

Anumber of policymakers, physician groups and medical societies opposethe practice, but AMA, which in 2005 received more than $44 million inrevenue from the sale of information from Masterfile, "has a financialincentive to keep selling this information without regard to how it isbeing used or the impact it has on patient care and health care costs,"according to the authors. In addition, although AMA in 2006 establishedan "opt-out"program, the move amounted to a "small and inadequate" effort towardreform, as many physicians remain unaware of the program and less than1% of physicians participate, the authors write.

Theyconclude, "By continuing to profit from the sale of physician data, theAMA has shown itself to be at best, slow-to-act, and at worst,opportunistic at the expense of professional boundaries. The AMA shouldput medical ethics before profits and stop licensing its physicianMasterfile for pharmaceutical purposes" (Restuccia/Vaias, San Francisco Chronicle, 7/24).
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