Judge strikes down N.H. prescription information law

A federal judge on Monday struck down New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation law that makes doctors’ prescription-writing habits confidential, saying it violates the First Amendment. Drug company sales representatives use the information to target particular doctors and tailor their sales pitches to each one, a practice known as “detailing.”
Signed on June 30, 2006, by Gov. John Lynch, the law took effect immediately. It made New Hampshire the first state to try to block pharmaceutical companies’ hard-sell pitches by restricting access to data that identifies doctors and other prescribers. Information containing prescribers’ zip codes, location and medical specialties is allowed. The law does not prohibit information from being used for care management, clinical trials and education.
Pharmaceutical company salespeople prize doctors’ information because it profiles prescribing habits — they can learn which doctors favor brand names or generics, and who is more willing to prescribe new drugs — and steer their strategies accordingly.
Less than a month after the law took effect, IMS Health Inc., headquartered in Norwalk, Conn., and Verispan LLC, headquartered in Yardley, Pa., filed a complaint in U.S. District Court asking a judge to declare it unconstitutional.
{How could a judge decide that a data mining company has a right to free speech and strike down the NH law to stop prescription data mining? This is an absurd finding. Companies do not have free speech rights—only people have free speech rights. The real issue is the patient’s fundamental right to the privacy of his/her medical records. Prescriptions are medical records! IMS Health and Verispan LLC have no right to eliminate prescribing doctors’ or patients’ privacy. Access to prescription records should be controlled by patients. Research always requires obtaining consent before using records. Researchers do not deserve a free pass to our medical records, they can ask us if we are willing to participate in research. Does anyone think that Americans should be compelled to turn over their records for research? Do we live in a gulag? Furthermore, public health uses of medical data require that a strong public consensus exists to justify violating anyone’s medical privacy (like the powerful public consensus that supports the laws requiring doctors to report child and sexual abuse victims). There is no such public consensus that supports prescription data mining. Unfortunately the NH law was so narrowly drawn that it only addressed marketing uses of prescriptions. There are far more damaging uses of prescription records than that. Insurers use patients’ prescription records for underwriting and employers use it for discrimination in hiring and promotions. Prescriptions should not be data mined by anyone for any purpose without informed consent. This systemic corporate thievery must be stopped. ~ Dr. Deborah Peel, Patient Privacy Rights}

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