Saturday, September 7, 2013

Mylan and Walgreens Team Up To "Remind" Us to Fill Our Epi-Pen Prescription

This is the Mylan slogan from their web site. I'm here to tell you that you should take them at their word. It's personal, all right.

We received a letter yesterday, ostensibly from Walgreens, as part of their "Walgreens Patient Support Program." The outside of the letter reads: PERSONAL AND CONFIDENTIAL TO BE OPENED BY ADDRESSEE ONLY. Address line is "Parent/Guardian of Sonof FAB."

I was concerned. Drug recall, perhaps? I open it, only to find:
You have received this letter because our records show you filled a prescription for EpiPen® (epinephrine) Auto-Injector 0.3 mg for your child and it may be near or past its expiration date. We would like to remind you that the more important step in reducing the risk of having a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) is to avoid the things that they are allergic to. However, if your child experiences anaphylaxis, you or your child will need to act quickly by using an EpiPen Auto-Injector and seeking immediate medical attention.
COME ON! Really? First off, my child is EIGHTEEN so this is a breach of HIS confidentiality. His doctor no longer talks to us about his health - why in the world do Walgreens/Mylan have that right? Second, it is SO CREEPY to use our prescription history for marketing!

At the corner of creepy and coniving
I know what Walgreens will say...they never turned over our personal information to Mylan, so technically there was no HIPAA violation. But I feel violated. What's to stop Walgreens from sharing this same data file with anyone else they choose? Maybe a local chiropractor wants to buy the list and take a shot at curing my son's allergies? Perhaps the NSA would like it to verify who really has severe food allergies for Selective Service purposes?

There have been a few lawsuits in the last couple of years about this issue. However, plaintiffs have lost because they've been unable to demonstrate harm, or prove that they should benefit from the economic value of their own data.

I have no solution, but I do have to say that any lingering good will I had toward the EpiPen brand has evaporated. We do need to fill prescriptions, but I can certainly avoid Walgreens and at least spread my prescription purchases among multiple pharmacies to avoid leaving a comprehensive data trail.

But the reality is that big data is here, and there's very little we can do about it, other than bitch about it on-line. And chuckle a little bitterly, I suppose, at the irony of Mylan's new tagline:

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  1. Hmm, I'm not from the U.S., but I am a pharmacist in Canada and I also used to work in marketing for a drug company. If things work the same way in the US, then you can probably rest easy ... the drug company never got your information. Somewhere along the way there should have been consent given for this though - we do a similar program where I work, and when any epi device (including Allerject / Auvi-Q) is dispensed, a form prints out asking the person if they'd like a reminder when it expires. If yes, they can check whether they want a phone call, text or email and at what time of the day. No letters. I've done it with my son and it's an automated phone message that comes directly from my pharmacy according to the call display. The pharmacy doesn't actually make the call though, so I'm not sure how the head office does it - I'm sure there's a 3rd party marketing company handling it somewhere, and I'm sure the drug company pays our corporation some kind of kickback when the refill is acted on, but I can assure you - when I worked in marketing, identifying patient data was never obtained. This would be some kind of deal worked out between Mylan and Walgreens, but not exclusively. ALL the drug companies do it (I get so tired of all the extra paperwork spitting out of my printer) and many of the big pharmacy chains are doing it too. BUT you should be asked for consent. If that didn't happen, then I would ask your Walgreen's how you got that letter!

  2. Thanks, Connie! But why then have we had to change over all our prescription orders to our son's name because he's 18 now, yet this company can still send us marketing about them? Doesn't privacy go both ways?

    I don't recall opting in for this, but I will check it out. The letter implied it was a mass mailing from Mylan, not something triggered by a specific prescription date, but I could be wrong, of course.

    I just really object to medical history being used for marketing, even if information is not technically shared between companies. There's just way too much room for abuse.


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