AMA and Prescription Data Mining

It’s a few weeks old, but I just came across this oped in the San Francisco Chronicle by Robert Restuccia and Lydia Vaias. They’ve painted a big target on the American Medical Association for its role in prescription data mining. It’s important to note exactly what AMA is doing here, because, from the oped, it appears that AMA is simply selling lists of doctors that are later enhanced for prescription mining purposes.

Few people recognize the role the AMA plays in making physician information available to companies that use it for pharmaceutical marketing purposes. The AMA sells information from its physician “Masterfile” to health information organizations that pair the identifying information with prescribing records from pharmacies and sell the whole package to pharmaceutical companies, a practice commonly called “prescription data-mining.”

Let me note that basically every non-profit with a membership sells lists. You can search for these lists on Direct Magazine’s Listfinder, which has over 60,000 “datacards” from businesses and non-profits. The fact that other organizations sell membership data doesn’t excuse AMA’s actions, but I think what’s happening here is that the activists are targeting AMA because the “health information organizations” and pharmaceutical companies are difficult to influence without passing legislation.

Nevertheless, AMA’s opt out program smacks of bogusity, and those of you who are doctors (AMA member or not), should be upset about it:

Last year, in response to this growing pressure, the AMA created an “opt-out” measure, called the Prescribing Data Restriction Program. Difficult to navigate, poorly publicized, with only a quarter of physicians are aware of it, and used by less than 1 percent of doctors, the opt-out program is a step toward reform, but a small and inadequate one. The program does not bar the sale of prescriber information to pharmaceutical companies; it merely requests and then relies on the industry to prevent the transmission of this data to its sales teams.

AMA’s move recalls what the Direct Marketing Association did to prevent people from opting out of telemarketing. DMA created the “telephone preference service,” poorly publicized it, make it difficult to enroll, etc. And then when the Federal Trade Commission proposed a national Do-Not-Call Telemarketing Registry, DMA said it wasn’t necessary and that the private sector had created a better opt out system.

So, doctors, take the time to opt out. Why? Because if you don’t, AMA will claim that you don’t care about having your information sold, and that people who complain about prescription data mining and the like are just fringe lunatics!

Hat tips: US PIRG, PAL, Consumerist.