Next time you take medicine, consider the surprisingly lucrative and circuitous path of that scrap of paper known as a drug prescription form. After the pharmacy fills your order, it sells information about your drug and doctor – though not necessarily about you – to a health-data company, such as IMS Health Inc., Verispan L.L.C. and Wolters Kluwer, all in the Philadelphia area.
The health-data company uses powerful computers to create a scorecard of physicians’ drug preferences by combining your transaction with millions of others from doctors and pharmacies nationwide. The health-data companies resell this information to pharmaceutical companies, which employ thousands of sales representatives to pitch drugs to doctors. Many companies tailor their bonuses for reps and pitches – and sometimes rewards – for individual doctors based on these prescription tallies.
The great state of New Hampshire is trying to put a stop to this tactic by the “big brother” pharmaceutical companies and the pharmacies which sell the data. Last year the state passed a law which prohibits this selling back and forth of health data… and the companies making millions of dollars off the process are fighting back. Two health-data companies are suing the state to block the law as an unconstitutional violation of their commercial rights. New Hampshire’s attorney general defends the law as a legal way to protect physician confidentiality and reduce health-care costs, blamed in part on sales reps’ pushing ever-costlier drugs.