Today, however (on a tip from PharmaGossip), I read the most absurd argument in its defense yet, reported in yesterday's Philadelphia Inquirer. The reporter, Karl Stark, quoted Jody Fisher, Verispan's vice president of product management, as saying: "Doctors are trying to create a special right of privacy. I can certainly appreciate where they're coming from. But the way the world is going is toward increased transparency of information."
"Transparency of information"! What a wonderful Web 2.0 buzz phrase!
Here's what, Jody: Let's hold hands and use that argument together on the pharmaceutical companies who are refusing to reveal their payments to doctors. And while were at it, let's extend your cutting edge concept into other areas of commerce as well. For example, groceries stores can combine customer's credit card information with their bar-coded food item data to create a goldmine of "transparent" marketing information for Kraft and Proctor & Gamble. I can't wait for the smiling cereal reps to detail me. "Mr. Carlat, I was wondering if you would consider purchasing more Great Grains Selects? We have new head-to-head data comparing it to Smart Start...."
If you haven't heard about prescription data-mining yet, here's a short course. When I was a hired gun speaker for Wyeth back in 2002, drug reps would book me speaking gigs at primary care doctor's offices. My job was simple: say whatever I possibly could to get doctors to prescribe more Effexor XR.
Before each of these "Lunch 'n Learns," as they are called, the rep would fax me a little cheat sheet about the doctor we'd be visiting. This sheet spelled out exactly how many prescriptions for which antidepressants this doctor was writing. Doctors who wrote too much Celexa and Zoloft, and not enough Effexor, were crucial "targets," and I was implicitly encouraged to give these misguided doctors a particularly hard sell.
How did the reps get such detailed information? Since the 1990s, drug companies, pharmacy information companies (such as Verispan and IMS) and the AMA have been collaborating in packaging doctor's prescription information and using it to help companies more efficiently sell their drugs. Companies like Verispan buy prescription info from local pharmacies, then they purchase identifying data on all us doctors from the AMA (which makes over $40 million a year by leasing out its physician Masterfile), and finally they turn around and sell the whole package to the highest-bidding drug companies.
Most readers of this blog have probably already heard about this latest piece slime-marketing, but doesn't it make you slightly nauseous to contemplate it again? It does for me.
Well, the word about this practice has finally hit the media, and many doctors, particularly members of the vibrant new physician's organization, National Physician's Alliance , are outraged (I know, this is the second plug I've given them in this posting; here's the subliminal message: JOIN THEM INSTEAD OF THE AMA). So far, three states, New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont, have passed legislation curtailing the practice. However, the well-funded pharmacy information companies are planning to sue each and every state that limits prescripion data-mining. They've already succeeded in persuading a New Hampshire judge to strike down the law.
Don't worry, people. The good guys are gonna win on this one--I guarantee it!