Last week, data mining companies won another legal battle—this time against the state of Maine, which tried to bar Verispan, IMS Health, and Wolters Kluwer Health from gathering prescribing information from physicians.
"This is a validation that this data has value," said Randy Frankel, vice president of external affairs at IMS Health. "And that states, in their effort to manage costs, must consider a number of variables, including free speech. From a standpoint of the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries, this really does further information transparency, and in the long run, we feel that protects patients."
According to data mining firms, tracking prescription patterns allows pharma companies to target doctors with patients who will benefit the most from a new product or a new approach to the treatment of chronic illness.
Maine is the third state to attempt to deny data mining companies access to prescription information—and the second to be defeated (New Hampshire lost a few months back, and Vermont is still in litigation).
The laws in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, while different in language, are fundamentally similar in goal, which is to eliminate the use of data for commercial purposes. Data mining companies sell the information to various companies and government agencies, including pharmaceutical manufacturers.
"There are some states that totally ignored the ruling in New Hampshire and will probably ignore this one as well," Frankel said. "We've now had two rulings that validate the idea of not only speech, but also of transparency of information in managing healthcare, and we believe that at all levels there is a real movement in this country to bring information into the hands of patients and providers and payers?and that is not going to stop."
States Stopped Cold
The judges in New Hampshire said that they were not persuaded by the state's conclusion that banning the information would contain healthcare costs. In Maine, US District Judge John Woodcock said that the information is not only useful, but valuable.
Woodcock said in court, "When aggregated and analyzed, this information demonstrates the normative prescribing patterns for healthcare professionals both as a whole and as individuals?and is of considerable interest to government agencies, academic institutions, health insurance companies, and other entities."
Why the Northeast?
Frankel alleges that an organization called the National Legislative Association on Prescription Drug Prices is trying to control drug costs, and it has members in the states in question that have been driving the issues. (Maine Rep. Sharon Treat, the primary sponsor of Maine's law, is also executive director of the association.)
"We are very concerned that these legislators are taking a very narrow view of what they are doing. In the hope of having some impact somewhere down the road, they seem willing to eliminate the value of this datas for everyone," Frankel said.
Calls to the association were not returned.