Privacy rules could hinder drug marketing

While everyone was watching healthcare reform, another bill made a change that could overhaul pharma marketing. In the stimulus package passed earlier this year, lawmakers tinkered with privacy rules on prescriptions. If enforced strictly, the New York Times points out, the new rules would throw a major wrench in the data-mining so many drug marketers rely on.

The federal provisions aren't as onerous as state laws that have already attracted court challenges from data-mining companies such as IMS Health. New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont ban the sale of scrip info to drugmakers. The data miners argue that the info is "de-identified," but one of the judges in that litigation has pointed out that de-identified info doesn't always stay that way.

The stimulus law prohibits the sale of personal health information, with a few exceptions, the NYT reports. It also strengthens rules requiring companies to disclose when patients' private data is stolen. Government agencies are still writing the regulations called for in the law, so no changes yet. One of the biggest anticipated: Drugmakers have been able to pay pharmacy companies to send treatment advice and medication reminders to patients--without those patients' permission. The new rule would restrict that advice and info to drugs the patient already uses. Drugmakers wouldn't be able to encourage drug-switching, for instance. We'll have to wait and see just how the rules are written.

- read the NYT story