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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Courts - "SCOTUS Weighs Whether To Limit Data Mining" [Updated]

Fascinating, nearly 5-minute story this morning by Nina Totenberg of NPR, that begins:

At the U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday, the justices for the first time will hear a case that tests what limits the government may put on data mining for commercial purposes. At issue is whether a state may bar the buying, selling, and profiling of doctors' prescription records for use by pharmaceutical sales representatives.

Under federal and state law, pharmacies are required to keep records of every doctor's prescription, and while patient privacy is protected by federal law, doctor privacy is not.

Pharmacies can and do sell prescription information to data miners, who in turn aggregate it to show each doctor's name, the number of prescriptions written for each drug, prescriptions for similar drugs, and changes from one drug to another. The data miners then sell that information to drug manufacturers, to help sales representatives target doctors for sales pitches and try to get them to prescribe, for example, a brand name instead of a generic.

The case is Sorrell v. IMS Health Inc. Here is the SCOTUSblog case page.

[Updated at 12:30 PM] "Fight Over How Drugs Are Pitched" was the heading to this story in yesterday's NYT, reported by Natasha Singer. From the lengthy story:

The concern over marketing based on doctor-specific prescription records revolves around the argument that it makes commercial use of private health treatment decisions — initiated in nonpublic consultations between doctor and patient, and completed in government-regulated transactions with pharmacists.

The data has become more available because pharmacies, which are required by law to collect and maintain detailed files about each prescription filled, can sell records containing a doctor’s name and address, along with the amount of the drug prescribed, to data brokers. (The records are shorn of patient names and certain other personal details covered by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, known as H.I.P.A.A., the federal legislation governing a patient’s privacy.) Data brokers in turn aggregate the records for use in medical research and marketing. * * *

Vermont enacted its prescription confidentiality law with the idea that drug makers do not have an inherent right to a doctor’s identifiable prescription information for use in marketing because the data originated in highly government-regulated, nonpublic health care transactions, said Mr. Sorrell, the Vermont attorney general.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on April 26, 2011 10:00 AM
Posted to Courts in general