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A Fight Over How Drugs Are Pitched

Publication Date: 
April 24, 2011
The New York Times
Natasha Singer

Lecturer Thomas C. Goldstein spoke with Natasha Singer from The New York Times on how drug companies can and cannot use data received through electronic profiles bought from data brokers.

Before pharmaceutical company marketers call on a doctor, they do their homework. These salespeople typically pore over electronic profiles bought from data brokers, dossiers that detail the brands and amounts of drugs a particular doctor has prescribed. It is a marketing practice that some health care professionals have come to hate.

“It’s very powerful data and it’s easy to understand why drug companies want it,” said Dr. Norman S. Ward, a family physician in Burlington, Vt. “If they know the prescribing patterns of physicians, it could be very powerful information in trying to sway their behavior — like, why are you prescribing a lot of my competitor’s drug and not mine?”


Vermont allows those records to be used in research and by law enforcement, said Thomas C. Goldstein, a lawyer representing IMS Health. Moreover, he said, drug makers are allowed to buy the very same records so they can identify doctors whose patients might be good candidates for clinical trials or communicate drug safety updates.

“The one exception is that drug companies cannot use the data to combat the insurers’ and the state’s messages about their products,” Mr. Goldstein argued.