Keeping your eyes wide open (Part 3)

March 11, 2013

Continuing with the discussion of the last week, I draw your attention to live an article in the recent issue of The
Economist, “Let the Sunshine in”.
In it, The Economist reports on global efforts to disclose the links between doctors and pharmaceutical firms.

Most of the article focuses on the United States, where the Affordable Care Act has produced yet another surprise. Under its provisions, starting 2014, pharmaceutical and device firms will have to disclose payments and other “transfers of value” to physicians. They also must report research fees and doctors’ investment interests.

The article points out that this does not limit these firms’ interactions with doctors, and that certain practices, such as free drug samples, are not covered. It also points out the new law does not regulate transactions with others in the healthcare system, such as hospital administrators, pharmacists and nurses.

The piece does note, at the end, that this law “will also provide [pharmaceutical firms] with exhaustive data on how much they and their competitors spend to market drugs to that doctor.” This coupled, with data already available on each physician’s prescriptions, would presumably allow pharmaceutical firms to determine which marketing results in which prescription sales.

In addition, while the article did not mention this, it enables these same drug firms to track what their competitors are doing and determine their own competitive counter marketing strategies as well.

I don’t use this to point out that this is a particularly effective tool, particularly since it will not even be in place until 2014.

However, it does also provide an object lesson for those of us interested in Competitive Intelligence. That lesson: look closely at any legislative or regulatory initiative that uses the magic words “Sunshine”, “Transparency”, “Open Records”, and the like. With some careful study and practice, they can often be used to develop new and occasionally powerful sources of CI. Of course, as we progress on one front, we often relapse on another. In that respect, I suggest reading one of the depressing recent articles about the continued restrictions imposed by the federal government on document production under the Freedom Of Information Act. In some ways, we might well call that the freedom from information act.

But, as the aphorism goes

     “When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.”  Alexander Graham Bell.

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