An Israeli pharmaceutical company has stopped asking women to tell it which doctors prescribed them contraceptive pills after the Health Ministry determined that the practice is unethical and Haaretz asked the company about the practice.
Dexcel Pharma, which produces the contraceptive pill Feminet, collected the information through a text message service promoted as a free monthly reminder for women to renew their contraception prescriptions. When women registered for the service on Mazkiron.net, they were asked which pill they use and the name of their gynecologist.
"Collecting information about doctors' prescription practices, whether directly or indirectly, could lead to pressure being exerted on the doctors or, God forbid, to bribery," said Dr. Avinoam Reches, who heads the Israel Medical Association's ethics committee. "That kind of collecting isn't being done for a good cause, and is inappropriate."
Dexcel says it never saw the names of the doctors and was not using the SMS registration process to collect information about which contraceptive pills Israeli gynecologists are recommending, but has ordered the firm running Mazkiron to take down the question about the women's doctors.
The medical association issued a warning two years ago about pharmaceutical companies' attempts to dig up information about doctors' prescription practices, stating that such information should be collected only with the doctor's consent and for a limited time, and only as long as the information was not used to pressure doctors to prescribe a certain medication.
The Health Ministry said that though the women have the right to provide the information voluntarily, it is ethically wrong for Dexcel to ask for it.
"The patient has the right to provide information of her own free will, but there is room to make it clear on the website itself that this is medical information that she does not have to provide," the ministry said in a statement. "And as a rule, the Health Ministry sees this as an unethical demand for information. The Health Ministry will act to make the ministry's position clear to the company."
Dexcel rejects all claims against it.
"The claim that the information was being used to collect details about the prescription practices of doctors is untrue," the company said in a statement. It said the women were asked to name their doctors in an effort to make sure they were taking the pills with a doctor's prescription. "But to eliminate any rumor or suspicion, the name of the doctor was removed by the company operating the site, in accordance with our request."
Dexcel said it initiated the reminder service to provided added value to its customers and help women remember to take their pills and avoid unwanted pregnancies.
Alternet, the company that operates the Mazkiron site, said the company never gave Dexcel the answers to the questions asked upon registration and was never asked to do so.
"We proposed the service to Dexcel Pharma in an effort to improve awareness about the pills," said company CEO Yaniv Alter. "Since this is prescription medication, we thought it was right to add the name of the doctor to encourage use of the service only for those who had prescriptions. There was never any intention, and we were never asked, to collect or hand over content-related information to Dexcel, and no information of that kind was handed over. In response to the company's request, we took down the 'Doctor's name' field, and we will continue to run the service as usual."
Israel bans the explicit advertising of prescription drugs in the media, including the Internet, but many drug companies use websites to provide information about the medications they sell. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration recently raised concerns about a Facebook "share" widget used by pharmaceutical company Novartis.
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