Court supports data privacy law

A federal appeals court in Boston has upheld states' rights to block the sale of doctor-specific prescription drug data. That's the kind of data drug companies use to determine whether a particular doctor would be receptive to what their sales reps have to say.

It's a major blow for data-mining companies like IMS Health and Verispan, which gather and sell the information to pharma companies. The case originally arose in New Hampshire, which implemented a law to block data-mining in order to cut down on health costs. The two companies sued the state in 2006. IMS and Verispan argued that such data is important for supporting public health, and banning it tramples on commercial free speech.

The federal court disagreed, saying that New Hampshire's efforts were reasonable and constitutional. "The record contains substantial evidence that, in several instances, detailers armed with prescribing histories encourage the overzealous prescription of more costly brand-name drugs regardless of both the public health consequences and the probable outcome of a sensible cost/benefit analysis," wrote United States Court of Appeals Judge Bruce Marshall Selya. The court's decision overturns two earlier courts' rulings.

"We are disappointed with the First Circuit Court of Appeals decision. Two federal courts previously have examined the issue and validated the view that the First Amendment protects the dissemination of prescriber-identifiable data, which we believe is vital to efforts to improve the quality, efficiency and safety of our healthcare system. We are currently reviewing the decision and evaluating potential next steps," IMS Health said in a statement.

- here's the New York Times article
- see IMS's response