Bill would restrict drug company marketing practice

April 13, 2010

Legislation that would restrict the ability of drug companies to gather and use information about the prescribing habits of individual doctors is scheduled for a hearing today in the Assembly Health Committee.

The bill, by committee chairman William Monning, would prohibit anyone from selling or releasing physician prescribing data for marketing purposes.

Assembly Bill 2112 seeks to stop the industry practice of profiling doctors by the prescriptions they write, information that drug company representatives use to pitch doctors on the products they sell.

According to a committee analysis of the bill, private data vendors collect prescription data and then match it with individual doctors through information they get from the American Medical Association’s physician database. The information allows pharmaceutical manufacturers to better understand the prescribing patterns of doctors. If a physician is frequently prescribing a competitor’s drug, for example, the sales person can use that information to tailor his or her pitch to the doctor to prescribe a different drug instead.

Monning contends that this practice of “physician detailing” leads to high pressure tactics that warp decision-making and ultimately drive up health care costs. The data mining companies and the drug industry say the practice can help highlight doctors who are not aware of the latest drugs and are not providing the best possible options for their patients. In theory, at least, the data could be used by sales people pushing cheaper generic alternatives, allowing them to spotlight doctors who are still prescribing the more expensive brand-name drugs.

The AMA allows doctors to opt out of its database, thus preventing the drug companies from acquiring the information needed to build a prescription profile on their practices.

Pills photo by Rodrigo Senna.

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