First published 4/25/11 on the American Family Physician Community Blog
For many years, it has been a common practice for pharmaceutical companies to use individual physicians’ prescribing profiles to tailor their marketing and sales strategies. For example, if a drug rep had access to data showing that a particular family doctor was prescribing more of a competitor’s anti-hypertensive drug, he or she might make a point of dropping off a batch of samples to change that doctor’s prescribing practices. As explained in a previous AFP Journal Club, this strategy is often very effective for the drug company, but ends up increasing patients’ out-of-pocket expenses in the long run.
Recently, state legislatures in Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire have passed laws that restrict access to a physician’s prescribing profile for marketing purposes. Drug companies and other groups argue that these laws violate the First Amendment, equating a doctor’s prescribing data to constitutionally protected “free speech.” A news article in the New York Times reported that the Supreme Court will hear arguments in a lawsuit brought against Vermont’s confidentiality law by prescribing data collection companies and the industry group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.
In order to balance the sometimes deleterious effects of aggressive drug marketing, AFP provides numerous online resources to support our readers in decision-making about prescriptions. These resources include a systematic eight-step approach to prescribing and individual reviews of new drugs that utilize the STEPS (Safety, Tolerability, Efficacy, Price, and Simplicity) approach. Are there other ways that we could help you and your patients make informed drug choices?
Kenneth Lin is a DC-based family physician who writes at Common-Sense Family MD.