May 22, 2007

Backseat prescriber? Let us open the door for you.

It's no secret that drug companies have been using the prescription records of physicians in order to better "educate" doctors. As you might expect, this backseat prescribing has rubbed a lot of physicians the wrong way. And as the Washington Post reported this week, the frustration has led to proposed legislation in a handful of states. New Hampshire even passed a law prohibiting the practice, but that law was declared unconstitutional on commercial speech grounds by a U.S. District Court last month.

Nevertheless, a recently created organization called the National Physicians Alliance is continuing the fight to close off pharma's access to prescription records. And how about the AMA? From that WaPo piece:

The American Medical Association, a larger and far more established group, makes millions of dollars each year by helping data-mining companies link prescribing data to individual physicians. It does so by licensing access to the AMA Physician Masterfile, a database containing names, birth dates, educational background, specialties and addresses for more than 800,000 doctors.

After complaints from some members, the AMA last year began allowing doctors to "opt out" and shield their individual prescribing information from salespeople, although drug companies can still get it. So far, 7,476 doctors have opted out, AMA officials said.

"That gives the physician the choice," said Jeremy A. Lazarus, a Denver psychiatrist and high-ranking AMA official.

-Greg Dahlmann

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