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February 22/29, 2012

Marketing Pharmaceuticals: A Constitutional Right to Sell Prescriber-Identified Data?

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliation: O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law, Georgetown University, Washington, DC.

JAMA. 2012;307(8):787-788. doi:10.1001/jama.2012.182

Pharmaceutical companies have strong economic interests in influencing physician prescribing behaviors. They advertise directly to consumers and to physicians. Beyond general marketing, manufacturers promote their drugs to physicians through “detailing”—sales representatives (“detailers”) visiting medical offices to persuade physicians to prescribe their products.

By law, pharmacies receive specific information with every prescription, including the physician's name, the drug, and the dosage. Pharmacies sell these records to prescription drug intermediaries (data miners), who use advanced computing to analyze prescriber-identified information (which physicians prescribe what drugs, in what dosages, and with what prescribing patterns). Data miners, in turn, lease sophisticated reports to pharmaceutical companies to refine detailers' marketing tactics, armed with knowledge about physician prescribing practices—for example, who are high or low prescribers and early or late adopters of new drugs.

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