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Saturday, June 20, 2009

Electronic Records, Data Mining and Your Health

While it is more likely than not an activity most people don't about, data mining can be a lucrative endeavor.

Along with drug data and prescribing activity used by CVS and other large pharmacy chains, web sites like Reeal Age are known to have been selling your data for profit.
’Data mining’ for drug companies goes to courts

By Associated Press | Saturday, June 20, 2009 | | Healthcare
MONTPELIER, Vt. — The prescription drugs you take are on the minds of a lot of people: judges on two federal courts, legislators in several states, countless doctors and, at the center, the companies that make money by figuring out who’s prescribing what.

"Data-mining" firms — which gather electronic information on the drugs prescribers order for their patients, then sell that information to pharmaceutical companies — have sued to block laws restricting their activities in New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont.

At issue is the use by drug company "detailers" — the sales force that deals with doctors and other prescribers and tries to get them to use the company’s products — of the information about doctors’ prescribing habits.

If, for example, a doctor usually uses one company’s antidepressant drug instead of another’s, that can be valuable information for a detailer trying to get the doctor to switch.

In upholding the New Hampshire law, 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston found the result of the activity is often higher drug costs, because the detailer usually is trying to steer the prescriber toward the newest, most expensive, medicines.

The data mining companies are set to appear Tuesday at the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York to ask a three-judge panel to block Vermont’s law from taking effect July 1.

And the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide by the end of the month whether to hear the data-mining companies’ appeal of the Boston court’s decision on the New Hampshire law. The Boston court has put a separate Maine case on hold until New Hampshire’s is resolved.

The issue has come up in more than 20 state legislatures, advocates on both sides said.

Randy Frankel, vice president for external affairs at IMS Health, said restricting the ability of his and similar companies to collect doctors’ prescribing data could hurt more than just commercial activity.

The data also are used to help law enforcement track when narcotic drug prescriptions spike; they help academic and government researchers follow drug safety and help aim information at doctors prescribing a drug when new side effects or other issues crop up, Frankel said.

"These data have enormous value to the public good," he said.

Maine state Rep. Sharon Treat, D-Hallowell, head of a national group of lawmakers following drug issues, said the data-mining companies’ "bread and butter" is selling the information to drug companies to bolster their marketing efforts.

The more that doctors are urged to use expensive drugs rather than generics, the less money there is to spread around to deliver the most health care to the most people, Treat said. She argued that’s a bad idea when many states are cutting people from public and subsidized health programs in budget-cutting moves.

The data companies, IMS Health Inc. and SDI, argue that restricting the data collection and use violates their and the drug companies’ First Amendment free speech rights to collect and use the information.

But the Boston court rejected the First Amendment argument, saying the issue was less a matter of speech than of conduct. In both that court and the U.S. District Court in Vermont, judges ruled that commercial speech can be regulated without violating the First Amendment, and that what the data-mining companies were doing fell into that category.

Treat concurred that "this isn’t about speech. They’re trying to change behavior" — the behavior of health providers in deciding which kinds of drugs to prescribe.

"That’s what it’s all about," Treat said. "What it’s not about necessarily is good health care."

On the Net:National Legislative Association on Prescription Drug Prices:

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At the same time as data mining companies are suing to get access to this data in states where it is prohibited, Big Pharma is making half-baked back room deals with Baucus and others to try to boost appearances of something real happening in DC on Plan D.
Emerging $80B deal would help fund Medicare drugs

So far an unmentionable on either side of the asile is the idea that freedom of choice in this discussion should be considered.

The preventive and curative nature of vitamins, minerals, and herbal supplements continue to be ignored and, according to the National Health Federation's support of the efforts of (More factual information on Codex can be found at

Consider this from CodexFund's FAQ page -
The 2005 Guidelines are in Direct Conflict with Existing US Law - the Proxmire Amendment of 1976.
In 1976, Congress passed the Proxmire Amendments to stop FDA from establishing standards limiting potency of vitamins and minerals in food supplements or regulating them as drugs based solely on potency. (PL-94-278 Section 501 (a)).

Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, the FDA initiated measures to reclassify vitamins and minerals with a potency of 150% or more of their recommended daily allowance (RDA) be classified as drugs. (Vitamins A and D were to be classified as drugs at 100% of their RDA.) Congress considered these actions as infringements on consumer's freedom of choice and amended the law to forbid the FDA from setting such limits. The law, which became known as the Proxmire Amendment barred the FDA from setting the composition or maximum potency of vitamins, minerals, or combinations thereof, unless they were of a specified type (e.g., toxic, habit-forming, administered by a doctor) or unless they were intended for use by a specified clientele (e.g., by individuals in the treatment of specific diseases or disorders, by children, by pregnant women).

Dave Lindorf writes, "But you cannot achieve the twin goals of reducing health care costs and providing access to health care to 50 million uninsured people, while leaving the profit centers of the current system—doctors, hospitals and the health insurance industry—in charge and in a position to continue to reap profits."

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