New AMA opt-out program could keep prescribing data private

September 1, 2006

Responding to concerns that drug reps are using prescriber data inappropriately and threats that states will ban the sale of these data for commercial use, the American Medical Association has implemented an opt-out program for physicians. The Prescribing Data Restriction Program would "allow physicians to opt-out of having their prescriber data accessed by drug reps or their direct supervisors," according to American Medical News (5/22-29/06).

Responding to concerns that drug reps are using prescriber data inappropriately and threats that states will ban the sale of these data for commercial use, the American Medical Association has implemented an opt-out program for physicians. The Prescribing Data Restriction Program would "allow physicians to opt-out of having their prescriber data accessed by drug reps or their direct supervisors," according to American Medical News (5/22-29/06).

Although drugmakers will still be able to use these data to evaluate and compensate drug reps, the program requires them to follow six best-practice guidelines. Originally released in 2001, the guidelines include training drug reps to ensure that prescribing data are kept confidential and that the information is not used to coerce or pressure physicians to prescribe a certain drug. Those companies that wantonly violate the guidelines would no longer be eligible to license the data.

The plan has been met with both praise and doubt. For instance, a statement from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America notes that the AMA's plan is an effort to "balance the public health benefits of using physician-specific prescribing data with the AMA's commitment to providing physicians with the opportunity to choose how their prescribing data are used." However, Carl Elliott, MD, PhD, a professor at the University of Minnesota's Center for Bioethics, who authored a study on the impact of drug reps on medicine, said that the AMA peddles "personal information about doctors to pharma without their consent, and now they propose an opt-out procedure that doesn't actually let doctors opt-out."