Policy Perspectives
February 9, 2000

Uses and Abuses of Prescription Drug Information in Pharmacy Benefits Management Programs

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: The Program in Medical Ethics, Center for AIDS Prevention Studies, and the Division of General Internal Medicine, University of California, San Francisco.


Policy Perspectives Section Editors: Robert J. Blendon, ScD, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Mass; Drummond Rennie, MD, Deputy Editor, JAMA.

JAMA. 2000;283(6):801-806. doi:10.1001/jama.283.6.801

A 1998 incident in which patients' prescription information was used to advertise a new drug exemplifies the importance of confidentiality in the era of managed care and computers. The ethical concerns voiced about this incident can also apply to pharmacy benefits management programs. The use of personal health information in pharmacy benefits management is particularly important because of increased pressures to control rising drug costs. Specific confidentiality concerns include whether the goal of benefiting patients will be achieved and whether the means are appropriate. The means may be problematic because of financial conflicts of interest, lack of patient authorization, inappropriate access to information by third parties, and inadequate safeguards for confidentiality. Policies should be crafted that protect confidentiality while allowing appropriate use of personal health information in pharmacy benefits management. Sound policies should require clear evidence of benefit to patients, an oversight committee, patient authorization, disclosure or prohibition of conflicts of interest, additional safeguards for sensitive medical conditions, strong confidentiality protections, and restrictions on advertising.