Monday, April 25, 2011

The New York Times' Natasha Singer, On Arguments Over Selling Doctors' Data. . . .

Come Tuesday, a case that could largely decide the financial viability/fate of companies like IMS Health will be argued before the highest court in the land.

At issue is whether states, like Vermont, may constitutionally exercise their police powers, to prevent companies like IMS from selling data streams about individual doctors' prescribing decisions (albeit aggregated over many patients, and stripped of patient identifying information). Obviously, pharmaceutical and life science concerns want access to the data (at least in part) to more effectively woo the higher-prescribers.

Equally obviously, patients may be unaware that their doctor is being so wooed (and/or so-highly prescribing), as just such a high-roller -- and thus may at least arguably be conflicted, when making drug decisions for a given patients.

Do go read all of what Ms. Singer has written, in the New York Times -- but here's a bit:

. . . .On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case, Sorrell v. IMS Health, that tests whether Vermont’s prescription confidentiality law violates the free speech protections of the First Amendment.

The case is being closely watched not only by drug makers and data collection firms, but also by health regulators, doctors and consumer advocates who say the decision will have profound implications for doctors’ control over their prescription histories, and for information privacy, medical decision-making and health care costs.

Vermont’s attorney general, William H. Sorrell, petitioned the court to review the case after three leading data collection firms including IMS Health, a health information company, and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, a drug industry trade group, challenged the state statute. Although the federal district court in Vermont originally upheld the law, an appellate court reversed the decision last November.

The federal government, the attorneys general of several dozen states, AARP, professional medical associations, privacy groups and the New England Journal of Medicine have filed briefs in support of Vermont’s law. The National Association of Chain Drugstores, the Association of National Advertisers and news organizations like Bloomberg and The Associated Press have filed briefs aligning themselves with the data firms.

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. . . .

We will keep you informed about this, as it is a certainty the Whitehouse Station will be monitoring these arguments -- in real time fashion. Literally billions are at stake here, for pharmaceuticals, and life sciences, companies.

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