Medical Marketing: Should the government protect against sharing confidential health records with marketers?

The Case of Sorrell v. IMS Health

Pharmaceutical companies, we love to hate them, don’t we? We want their research and their products, and yet we don’t we want them to have the information to help sell their products. At least this is true in Vermont.

On April 26, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of Sorrell v. IMS Health to determine whether Vermont’s prescription confidentiality law violates the free speech protections of the First Amendment. In 2007, Vermont passed Act 80, prohibiting prescription drug companies from obtaining patients’ personal information for marketing purposes without the prescribing physician’s consent. Pharmaceutical companies sued the state of Vermont arguing it was an unconstitutional restriction of their right to commercial speech.

Mr. Sorrell, the Vermont attorney general stated, “Vermont enacted its prescription confidentiality law with the idea that drug makers do not have an inherent right to a doctor’s identifiable prescription information for use in marketing because the data originated in highly government-regulated, nonpublic health care transactions.”

The basis of this case stems from how prescriptions are marketed to doctors. The process of marketing a new drug, as with any new products or service, typically begins with extensive market research. The research process in the pharmaceutical industry includes purchasing information collected from pharmacies pertaining to prescription data. This data provides marketers insight to their target audience, including the predominant type of services offered by physicians and the pharmaceutical brands physicians most frequently prescribed to patients. With this information, marketers define their market, present relevant drugs to physicians and maximize return on investment for marketing efforts.

Physicians and patients, not only the pharmaceutical companies, stand to benefit from this research. With an understanding of which physicians specialize in certain medical areas, pharmaceutical companies can make sure those physicians know what the latest treatment options are to better educate them on available drug choices for patients. Less money can be spent marketing to unnecessary audiences and, theoretically, more money can be spent on research and development.

And while this particular typed of research has immense payoffs for pharmaceutical companies, the practice of how this research is being collected has become progressively more litigious.

According to a New York Times article, “The case is being closely watched not only by drug makers and data collection firms, but also by health regulators, doctors and consumer advocates who say the decision will have profound implications for doctors’ control over their prescription histories, and for information privacy, medical decision-making and health care costs.”

If the ruling supports Act 80, pharmaceutical marketers will be faced with the massive dilemma of finding new methods to target specialized physicians and minimize marketing obstacles due to the lack of pertinent available data.

The Supreme Court’s decision will directly impact how physicians maintain prescription information, patient and physician privacy laws as well as the marketing of prescription drugs.

As we await the decision, share with us your thoughts on how the Court should rule. Share with us on Facebook at Weise Communications and follow @Weise_Ideas on Twitter.

8 Responses to “Medical Marketing: Should the government protect against sharing confidential health records with marketers?”

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  2. April 10, 2013 at 9:35 pm

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  3. May 10, 2013 at 6:15 am

    I often wonder about the marginal changes the medical industry will go through with the up and coming reforms. I wonder how much the GOV will allow large companies (i.e. google) to monopolize on Medical Marketing with the use of private data. As far as I know in healthcare marketing, SEO Services for medical practices will be closely following these monopolies in potentia.

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