In late June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that individual states cannot ban drug manufacturers and data-mining companies from using information on the prescriptions most written by individual physicians. In a 6-3 vote, the court struck down Vermont’s Pharmaceutical Confidentiality Law, which was meant to boost generic drug use in order to control healthcare costs.

According to Justice Anthony Kennedy, the law violates the free speech rights of drug makers and data mining companies. Writing on behalf of the court, he said “the state cannot engage in content-based discrimination to advance its own side of a debate,” adding that “speech in aid of pharmaceutical marketing … is a form of expression protected by the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.”

Vermont’s Pharmaceutical Confidentiality Law — which prevents the sale of prescribing information for a specific physician without his or her permission — reached the higher court after a federal appeals court struck down the law. A separate appeals court, however, upheld similar laws in Maine and New Hampshire. Vermont argued that the law protected physicians’ privacy and could help control healthcare costs. The data-mining companies involved in the case (IMS Health, SDI, and Source Healthcare Analytics) maintained that  prescribing information could be used to monitor safety issues for new drugs, reduce costs, and aid research efforts.

Physician’s Weekly wants to know…

  • Where do you stand on the issue of prescription data mining? Do you feel it is a violation of physician privacy?
  • Do you think prescription data mining can help keep tabs on drug safety?
  • Do you think the prevention of data mining can help control healthcare costs and promote generic drugs?
  • What potential harm could come to physicians whose prescribing habits are made available?