Published Online: Thursday, June 1, 2006

Drug-sales-representative computerized data on what physicians are prescribing is coming under attack by some physicians. The data gathering can help the estimated 90,000 drug-company representatives influence physicians to write more prescriptions for a brand name drug or fewer scripts for a competitor's drug.

New Hampshire, Arizona, Hawaii, and West Virginia have all introduced separate legislation to squash the practice. In an attempt to mollify physicians and put off state restrictions, the American Medical Association (AMA) plans to give individual physicians the option of declaring their prescription records off limits to drug sales representatives.

In California, one of the states that raised complaints about the practice, a group of physicians is starting a pilot program under which physicians who opt out of the AMA system will get comparisons of their prescribing patterns in 17 classes from the data companies.

State Rep Cindy Rosenwald (D), lead sponsor of New Hampshire's bill, said that she did not feel the AMA's self-policing measure would provide sufficient protection. Even if physicians do not permit their prescription records to be available to drug-sales representatives, the information would still be sold to drug companies for marketing and research purposes, Rosenwald said. The drug companies would have to be trusted not to share the data with their sales staff, she added.

A 2004 Gallup poll found that two thirds of physicians surveyed were against the release of such data to sales representatives, and that 77% believed that an optout program would ease concerns about the data release. Nearly 25% of the physicians, however, were unaware that the pharmaceutical industry could obtain the information.

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