NEWS30 June 2009

Supreme Court rejects review of prescription data law

Legal North America

US— The Supreme Court has refused requests for a judicial review of a New Hampshire law that blocks the use of physicians’ prescribing information for marketing purposes.


Healthcare data firms IMS and SDI petitioned the court in March in a bid to overturn the decision of the First Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the legislation after it had previously been blocked on free speech grounds.

The law does not prevent IMS and SDI from collecting data on what drugs doctors have prescribed, but it does bar them from selling it on to drugs companies, who traditionally use that information to market new medicines.

IMS and SDI had the support of the Council of American Survey Research Organisations and the Pharmaceutical Marketing Research Group, who filed a brief with the Supreme Court arguing that the legislation could have a “devastating effect” on the business of all pharmaceutical market research firms.

In a joint statement, IMS and SDI said yesterday’s decision by the Supreme Court was “not surprising” as the Justices there take “just one percent of all cases presented on appeal”.

They added: “Because the New Hampshire law remains a threat to affordable healthcare and important free speech principles, we will continue to pursue our case in the courts.” This includes their legal challenges to similar statutes enacted by Vermont and Maine.

These legislative efforts seek to drive down the cost of healthcare by protecting doctors from high-pressure sales pitches made by drugs company representatives who come armed with detailed information on the physician’s prescribing practices.

However IMS and SDI have long-argued that such laws will ultimately “restrict the flow of prescriber information that is essential to improving the quality of healthcare and ensuring patient safety”.

In yesterday’s statement, the companies said: “Federal law and public opinion continue to move rapidly toward greater transparency and the use of information to improve quality, safety and treatment outcomes, and to reduce costs. We see this in the economic stimulus package and proposed healthcare reform initiatives.

“Comparative effectiveness research, treatment compliance studies, and pay-for-performance metrics all rely extensively on the use of prescriber-identifiable or anonymised patient-level data.”