In July 2007, protests at the American Medical Association (AMA) annual meeting in Chicago brought to the forefront the fact that the AMA has begun disclosing information in its Physician Masterfile, or physician database, to pharmaceutical companies. The American Medical Student Association (AMSA) are protesting the “sales” of these data for pharmaceutical marketing purposes.

In defense, the AMA calls the financial arrangement “licensure” and notes that physicians have the right to opt-out of sharing their personal information (although not its collection.) Likewise, the AMA opt-out options do not limit the AMA’s ability to store this medical data indefinitely into the future; physician information collected by the AMA is never deleted from the Masterfile, even after the physician’s death. Since the AMA began compiling physician data in 1906, the Masterfile is now more than a century old and includes approximately 900,000 physicians, about two thirds of whom are not AMA members.

According to Robert Musacchio, PhD, the American Medical Association’s Senior Vice President of Publishing and Business Services,

This is not really a patient issue, from our perspective, but I would ask how it would hurt patients if it’s designed to provide physicians with information about therapeutics?”

However, Michael J. Ehlert, MD, President of the American Medical Students Association (AMSA) responded firmly,

“We feel that the only way pharmaceutical companies could use this data for sales is to target those physicians who are not prescribing ‘enough’ of a particular medicine.”

Dr. Ehlert, AMSA President, also said, “The prescribing patterns are influenced by the specific conditions of each individual patient, and it is reckless to determine that there are quotas for how much of any given drug needs to be prescribed…. Using therapeutics is a sophisticated process that is learned through almost a decade in medical school and should be free of the influence of hired sales reps without a medical degree and no access to a patient’s chart or medical history.”

The American Medical Association should consider itself SCHOOLED by the American Medical Students Association! Especially because most physicians aren’t even aware that the American Medical Association Physician Masterfile database has an opt-out option! Physician awareness of the Physician Data Restriction Program (PDRP) is astonishingly low. According to Dr. Musacchio, an AMA survey in January 2007 showed that only about 10% to 15% of physicians were aware of the Physician Data Restriction Program (PDRP); a second survey in late May 2007 showed that physician awareness had increased to 33%.

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