Can anyone be allowed to collect data on drug use pattern from doctors and sell it to pharmaceuticals?
The idea could sound appalling to many, but some US courts have taken such a view. And now the Supreme Court is to adjudicate on a lower court decision shooting down a law preventing sale of prescription drug data to pharmaceuticals.
The issue centres around a Vermont data mining law of 2007. The law targeted those companies that buy the prescription data from pharmacies, aggregate the information and then sell it to drug makers, who use the data to target their sales pitches to physicians. The information tells drug companies which medicines doctors are prescribing and how often.
The Vermont law prevents the sale, transmission or use of prescriber-identifiable information for marketing a prescription drug unless the prescribing doctor consented. The lawmakers said the measure would protect the privacy of doctors and patients and help control health-care costs on expensive brand-name drugs. The state also said the pharmaceutical industry spends nearly $8 billion a year on marketing efforts directed at doctors.
The law was challenged on First Amendment grounds by data-mining companies along with a leading drug-industry trade group.
The New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a divided ruling, said the Vermont law was an unconstitutional restriction on the commercial free speech rights of drug makers and the data-mining companies. But a different federal appeals court upheld similar laws passed in Maine and New Hampshire.
In the circumstances Vermont and the industry challengers urged the Supreme Court to hear the case and settle the issue, and it has agreed to.