CA bill would let pharmacies sell patient prescription data

A new California bill working its way through the state Senate would allow pharmacies there to sell patient prescription information to third-party marketing firms working for pharmaceutical companies. The legislation, which is expected to pass the Senate, would let pharmas send mailings directly to patients. The bill's supporters say that the intent of the mailings would be to remind patients to take their meds and order refills.

It's worth noting, by the way, that this goes well beyond the so-called "data mining" that already routinely takes place in most states (other than those that have banned the practice). In those cases, pharmaceutical industry intermediaries like IMS Health collect data on physician prescribing patterns. Pharmas buy the data from IMS and its peers, then go out to the practices to sell doctors using the knowledge they've gained of that doctor's prescribing patterns. This, on the other hand, is a direct-to-consumer communications initiative.

Opponents like the Consumer Federation of California contend that the bill would allow the pharmas to intrude into consumers' private lives. The California Medical Association also opposes the measure, contending that it could harm patient safety and physician-patient relationships, particularly in the case of patients with sensitive medical issues like mental illnesses. Supporters, however, say they've addressed this issue by allowing people to opt out of the mailings when they go to pick up their prescriptions.

To learn more about the bill:
- read this San Francisco Chronicle piece

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