Live Free or ... ?

  • by: |
  • 05/01/2007
CONCORD, N.H. -- A federal judge on Monday struck down a state law that makes doctors' prescription-writing habits confidential, saying it violates the First Amendment.

Good call.

Whether or not physician-prescribing data should or shouldn’t be available for marketing purposes is one thing, but the most important thing to remember is that there are important public health reasons why this data must continue to be shared with pharmaceutical companies.

When FDA-directed safety warnings are issued, they’re communicated via “Dear Doctor” letters to the physicians who have prescribed the drug in question. This is accomplished quickly and precisely because the industry has access to accurate data. And when safety issues arise, that same data helps define the scope of the problem. Because of this data, for example, the FDA can determine how many patients were taking a specific drug and for how long each patient had been taking it.

Further, FDA-mandated risk management plans — developed for physicians who prescribe higher-risk therapies — are physician-targeted through the use of prescribing data. These records are also an important tool in clinical trial recruitment, allowing doctors who are treating targeted patient populations to focus their efforts.

According to the American Medical Association (AMA), “Restrictions on the use of prescription information will disrupt health care research and its corresponding benefits for patients, government agencies, health planners, academicians, businesses and others.”

In July, the AMA launched a new web-based program specifically designed to address physician concern over inappropriate use of prescribing information. Known as the Prescribing Data Restriction Program (PDRP), the program also ensures that prescribing data remains available for all the reasons previously mentioned. In fact, all companies that purchase data from the AMA will be contractually required to adhere to the PDRP program.

The safeguards offered by the AMA’s program offer a much more reasonable and targeted approach to protecting both patients and physicians from unwanted disclosures. And those safeguards come with far fewer unintended consequences than any ill-considered state legislation.

When it comes to New Hampshire, “Live free or die” is a great state motto — but it’s a terrible health care policy.

Center for Medicine in the Public Interest is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress, reduce health disparities, extend life and make health care more affordable, preventive and patient-centered. CMPI also provides the public, policymakers and the media a reliable source of independent scientific analysis on issues ranging from personalized medicine, food and drug safety, health care reform and comparative effectiveness.

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