A prescription for snooping

Andrew Zajac reports:

When your doctor writes you a prescription, that’s just between you, your doctor and maybe your health insurance company — right?

Wrong. As things stand now, the pharmaceutical companies that make those prescription drugs are looking over the doctor’s shoulder to keep track of how many prescriptions for each drug the physician is writing.

By obtaining data from pharmacies and health insurers, the drug companies learn the prescribing habits of thousands of doctors. That information has become not just a powerful sales and marketing tool for the pharmaceutical industry but also a source of growing concern among some elected officials, healthcare advocates and legal authorities.

The identity of patients is not disclosed in such data, but knowing in detail what individual doctors are prescribing enables drug makers to fine-tune their messages when sales reps call on doctors. They can lobby for use of an alternative drug made by their own company, for instance, bolstering the pitch with specially selected research data or free samples.

What worries some government officials and patient advocates is that keying sales tactics to an individual doctor’s prescribing preferences — known as data mining — may distort decision-making and fuel prescribing of new, high-cost drugs.

Read more in the L.A. Times.

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