Bioethics Blogs

Access to Physicians’ Prescription Habits

Jean-Christophe Bélisle-Pipon calls attention to issues of accessibility and transparency related to the collection and sale of physician prescribing data by data solution companies.


QuintilesIMS is a data solution company that provides services to the pharmaceutical industry. In 2002, the company was authorized by the Commission d’accès à l’information du Québec to receive and make use of personal information held by Québec pharmacies about physician prescribing practices, provided that: 1) specific professional acts were not linked to specific professionals; 2) physicians could refuse to have their information used; and 3) use of the information was restricted to reaching out, informing and training physicians. Data related to physician prescribing practices is sold by Québec pharmacies to QuintilesIMS. In turn, QuintilesIMS collects, collates this data and sells it to pharmaceutical companies for marketing purposes.

Recently, information related to QuintilesIMS business practices were leaked to the media.

Allegations have been made suggesting that data detailing the prescribing practices of 7,000 Québec physicians (including identifying information) have been disclosed to pharmaceutical companies. If proven true, this would represent an unauthorized practice, that contravenes the Act respecting the protection of personal information in the private sector. The issue at stake in the allegations is not the disclosure to companies, but rather, the disclosure of identifying information.

Physician prescribing data must be clustered in groups of 30 that have similar prescribing profiles. Thus, it is impossible in Canada (contrary to the US) to have access to individual physician prescribing profiles. In Québec, physicians can opt out of this data collection, and those who allow their information to be used, freely have access to their own prescribing profile.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.