How Do Drug Companies Know What Your Doctor Is Prescribing?

The AMA sells information about what your doctor is prescribing says an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle.

The information is sold without the doctor’s consent (some doctors don’t even know the program exists) and drug companies pay well for it:

One of the less obvious but more intrusive marketing tools is the drug rep’s hand-held computer, which contains a detailed profile of your doctor’s prescribing history. Armed with the knowledge of each doctor’s individual prescribing habits, pharmaceutical sales representatives tailor their pitches to each physician. This strategy has resulted in new, costlier drugs replacing established medications that have proven histories of safety and effectiveness. Industry profits swell, as do the nation’s health care costs.

Few people recognize the role the AMA plays in making physician information available to companies that use it for pharmaceutical marketing purposes. The AMA sells information from its physician “Masterfile” to health information organizations that pair the identifying information with prescribing records from pharmacies and sell the whole package to pharmaceutical companies, a practice commonly called “prescription data-mining.”

The AMA profits handsomely from this agreement. In 2005, the AMA made more than $44 million from the sale of database products, approximately 16 percent of its budget.

Doctors can, however, say no to sales pitches from drug reps, but many of them don’t because they enjoy the free pens, free lunches, free coffee mugs, etc, that arrive along with the drug rep’s visit. Fewer still even realize their information is up for sale by the AMA, which represents only 30% of doctors, yet sells information on all of them.

Prescription mining raises millions for doctors’ group [SFGate via US PIRG]