Supreme Court Hears Key Privacy Case

The US Supreme Court heard arguments this week in a case that raises important issues about personal privacy, patients relationships with their doctors and what some see as corporate America’s right to see people’s personal data because doing so may aid their marketing efforts.

According to the Burlington Free Press, the case turns on “a Vermont law that restricts the use of doctors’ prescription records for marketing purposes.” Pharmaceutical companies have challenged the law, arguing that they need to know which doctors are prescribing generic as opposed to brand-name drugs so that they can target their marketing to doctors who, they feel, should opt for generic medicines less often. The Free Press reports that 35 states, the District of Columbia, the US Justice Department and “organizations representing more than 100,000 physicians” back the law, while “numerous business and research groups, including the US Chamber of Commerce” oppose it. The measure went into effect last year. A Federal District judge upheld it, but was reversed by the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals.

From a patients’ perspective challenges to this law raise several potentially disturbing issues. As patients we presume our conversations with out doctors are private. It is unclear from the court arguments whether personally identifiable information is being shared with drug companies. Also, should patients have some right to know whether their doctor’s prescribing decisions were effected by a marketing hard-sell from drug manufacturers? Considering the number of scandals in recent years surrounding medical marketing these are very legitimate questions for patients to ask.

Unfortunately, many people are uncomfortable with the idea of asking their doctor these sort of pointed questions. Answers that would have been useful when a person is sick may emerge only later as part of a medical malpractice or wrongful death case.

Washington and Oregon personal injury attorneys are here to help level the playing field between average citizens and companies who put their marketing plans ahead of the public good. The Supreme Court will issue a ruling in the Vermont case later this year, and it will bear close scrutiny at that time. When corporations are out mainly for themselves we need to rely on our courts to protect ordinary citizens rights to both privacy and crucial health-related information.

The Burlington Free Press: Supreme Court questions Vermont’s limits on use of prescription data