Advance planning can hedge against the possible loss of prescribing information.

Drastic changes may be ahead if the U.S. Supreme Court upholds a Vermont law restricting the sale of prescription drug information identifying prescribers and patients for commercial marketing (Sorrell, et al., v. IMS Health, et al.). This practice—more commonly known as data mining—is the veritable butter to our bread as pharma marketers.

One could argue that data mining doesn’t actually violate any privacy laws because all personal patient information is kept anonymous. But if the high court rules in favor of the Vermont Law, it may create a domino effect, which will negatively affect not only how we market drugs, but also how we identify and communicate with healthcare professionals. While the Supreme Court’s decision isn’t expected until this fall, here are some predictions of what could result and how to plan for it.


The utility of data mining is that you can quickly extract and analyze information from large data sets. It is an economical way for marketers to identify specific physician prescribing behaviors, such as physicians who may prescribe less-effective drugs. Without this information, it will require more time, effort and, of course, more money for pharma marketers to determine who’s a hot prescribing prospect (and who’s not), where to target promotional efforts, and how to make the best use of sampling. These added costs may be passed on to patients, or make it less desirable for pharma companies to market certain needed drug therapies.

Plan for it: The disputed law does not bar pharma companies from asking physicians about their prescribing habits. Pharma companies and their marketing partners may want to start thinking about new and innovative ways to elicit information from physicians on a mass scale. A big challenge will be incentivizing healthcare professionals to participate and convincing them that the information they provide will actually benefit their patients. Another important consideration is that physicians’ perceptions do not always match their actual behaviors, so the information they provide may not be 100% accurate.


It is hard enough as it is for sales representatives to get quality time with physicians. If the high court bars the industry from receiving important data, sales reps will need more time to profile physicians, leaving even less time for detailing. Pharma companies may also have to cast a much wider net to reach healthcare professionals across an entire territory. Without prior knowledge of individual prescribing habits, when sales reps finally arrive at physicians’ offices they’ll need to be prepared to face disinterest and objections, or even physician hostility.

Plan for it: Examine existing sales-training efforts to ensure that sales reps are fully equipped to quickly “read” and react to healthcare professionals, and also to get data that can help target future promotional efforts. Evaluate current sales force capabilities. How will you reach more physicians if need be? Does it make sense to bring a contract sales force on board? Our approach with clients with small sales forces is, “If you can’t get to physicians, bring them to you.” Direct mail, digital and online promotions are viable avenues for hard-to- reach physicians, but now more than ever, they will need to be more creative, compelling and convincing.

DISCLAIMER: The Guest Commentary page allows contributors to voice their opinions on important issues that affect the industry. The views of the authors are their own and are not necessarily those of PM360 and its staff.

  • Ken Ribotsky

    Ken Ribotsky is CEO and Owner of Brandkarma, LLC. Brandkarma provides everything from brand development and advertising to medical education and public relations. Ken is incredibly passionate about helping companies bring products and services that are truly health-enhancing and needed to the market.


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