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A Double Dose of Prescription Drug News

A Double Dose of Prescription Drug News

December 24, 2007

Good news, bad news. In the holiday spirit, let's start with the good:

Front page Boston Globe coverage today of the decision by UMass Memorial Center, one of the state's largest health systems:

"...sharply limiting the close ties between many doctors and the makers of drugs and medical devices. The policy should significantly reduce conversations and meetings between physicians and salespeople, and therefore presumably reduce the appearance of influence over what drugs doctors prescribe for patients. It prohibits doctors and other clinical staff from eating meals paid for by companies; bans all gifts, from candy to medical journals; stops drug companies from giving money directly to individual physicians and departments for educational programs; and places a complete ban on doctors joining company "speakers bureaus" to give talks about products."

Gutsy, difficult, controversial move. And absolutely the right thing to do. This follows similar action earlier in the fall by Boston Medical Center. Tip of the hat to UMass CEO John O'Brien. Two doesn't yet make a trend. So let's hope more will follow.

Meanwhile, the bad news is last Friday's decision by a federal district court judge in Maine to strike down that state's ban on so-called "data mining." This decision follows an earlier decision by a federal judge in New Hampshire striking down that state's earlier statute. Maine legislators thought they had addressed the issues raised in the NH decision. But the ME judge seemed to add little new thinking to his decision and relied heavily on the earlier NH ruling.

Briefly, "data mining" is the practice by which pharmaceutical companies collect and analyze data on individual physician prescribing practices to target their marketing efforts. Oftentimes, the companies have more information on docs to whom they are marketing than the docs know about their own prescribing practices. Here's the link to the Globe story on the decision. Here's hoping both states appeal these decisions.