On Aug. 29, three companies that exist to gather and sell prescription-writing practices of individual doctors filed a lawsuit against the state of Maine. Maine recently passed a statute that allows physicians to decide whether they want their prescription practices collected and sold to pharmaceutical companies; when this statute goes into effect, Maine physicians will easily be able to “opt out” of the system. There is a similar statute going into effect in Vermont that will require physicians to “opt in” to the system should they so choose.
Why have two states with small populations received such attention from large data-mining companies? They are afraid of a trend that will hurt their bottom line. The lawsuit alleges that the concern is about patient safety and that these statutes cut off the flow of information.
In reality, there are other means to ensure patient safety, and this “flow of information” only serves to deepen the pockets of the pharmaceutical industry and the data-mining companies that exist to support them.
These data-mining companies sell the information to pharmaceutical companies so their representatives can tailor their sales pitches individually to each physician. This has the effect of encouraging physicians to prescribe expensive newer medications that may or may not be more effective or safe. They certainly add to their profit and increase the cost for the system, and ultimately increase the cost for you.
There is a lot of money at stake. The American Medical Association makes $40 million annually by selling detailed physician information on all physicians, whether they are members of the AMA or not, to these companies.
It is time for physicians and patients to partner together and fight industries that strive to influence the care provided, the tests ordered and the medications prescribed. Fighting this lawsuit is one step. Encouraging your physician to opt out is another.
Benjamin Schaefer, M.D.
Bethany Picker, M.D.