Monday, November 19, 2007

Your Rx Buying History is For Sale

Every once and a while, I conclude that I cannot improve upon someone else's work, and so it is the case with's new campaign to highlight that your prescription drug buying history -- including name, address, date of birth and drug regimen is FOR SALE. In fact, each day all 51,000 pharmacies (including mail-order pharmacies like Medco and Express Scripts) in the U.S. download, transmit and sell personally identifiable information for every drug they disburse. Even if you pay cash. One of the biggest data miners to profit from this data is IMS Health, a company who compiles prescription sales data for Wall Street analysts (or anyone else who wants to buy it) and sells it for outrageous sums of money, even though you never agreed to be included!

The main purchasers of this data are insurance companies and underwriters, pharmaceutical companies and other data miners. Arguably, the data can be bought and sold by anyone who wants to purchase it.

Don't remember agreeing to this? Well, you didn't. Take a few seconds to watch the following video:

The fact is that no one has ever given informed consent for their personal information to be used in this way. No one has ever been given the right to opt out of this practice.

You can help Patient Privacy Rights make your prescriptions private via the following actions:

1). Sign the Campaign for Prescription Privacy petition to demand that pharmacy chains stop selling our health secrets.

2). Spread the word. Please do like I have, by forwarding this video to all your friends and family and making it available in online communities so that we can protect our private data.

I hope you will give this serious consideration, because today, your prescription purchases are really anything but secret.


Anonymous said...

Scott, this really, REALLY irks me. I truly hope that there is a a major push towards consumer protections over the upcoming years. In addition to private companies, the government buys these databases as well. In fact, they can buy information about you that it's illegal for them to collect. There's an entire industry based on selling the government the stuff the government isn't supposed to know. It's MADDENING!

Scott K. Johnson said...

Yes, that is very frustrating.

Somebody is out there getting filthy rich off my prescription purchasing history while I have to beg and borrow to simply buy the meds that keep me alive!

Anonymous said...


It isn't JUST pharmacies. I would have been skeptical about this revelation (I can't remember the last time I had a prescription filled), but my local grocery store provides the same kind of data mining. How do I know? Here's my contribution:

I'm not a wine drinker . . . just never developed an appreciation for the stuff. But last year, at the last minute, I went to the local grocery store to buy a bottle of wine as a "courtesy gift" for an acquaintance. This was my ONLY association with wine . . . the purchase of a single bottle as a last-minute gift. During the next 3 months, I received no less than three advertisements/solicitations from various wine makers/distributors. When I tried to figure out where these were coming from, the ONLY connection could be tracked to my presentation of local grocery-store REWARDS card at time of check out.

So yes, Big Brother is watching and tracking almost every action we take. Unlike prescription-history tracking (which is specific and laden with personal information), other purchase-tracking can be squelched (at least for the time-being), by foregoing the enticements offered by store-specific REWARDS cards.


Scott S said...


You're right about the "big brother" watching your purchase behavior, the real difference is whether we do it unwittingly or not, we were told that our purchases would be monitored and used for this purpose. Most notably, the supermarket discount cards (called "membership" or "club" cards or some similar name) that most major chains operate do have to disclose that purchase data is going to be used for customer relationship management purposes, although exactly what that entails is often not disclosed. Often the mice-type is buried in disclosure that accompanies the card that you need in order to receive the sale prices on items at the store, so its kind of misrepresentative, but nevertheless compliant.

But when you buy medicine at the pharmacy, they have NEVER disclosed your name and what you purchased would be used for that purpose, nor are you give the right to be excluded. Several bills being considered in Congress want our medical records to be all electronic, which would open the floodgates even more than they are today. This campaign aims to include proper disclosure and opt-out policies in what is arguably the biggest violation of personal privacy seen in recent years.

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