18 January 2008

Relationship Marketing? Try Creep-Out Marketing!

I recently changed lipid medication, effectively beginning a new prescription for a statin manufactured by Astra-Zeneca. Today, I received a thick envelope with the bold title "Inside: Important information you requested from your pharmacy." Strange, I thought. I didn't request any information from my pharmacy. Inside the envelope were several brochures, including a "Patient Information" brochure branded with the medication name, a "Daily Tracker" brochure to log what I eat and how much I exercise, a "My HealthyChanges" push-survey to "test" how much I've learned from the aforementioned brochures, and a pseudo-personalized letter from "Your Shoppers Drug Mart pharmacist" welcoming me to the Brand-Name-Drug "My HealthyChanges(tm) program."

Oh yes, there's also the disclaimer paragraph saying that if I want to opt-out, I can send in the opt-out card.

My question is simple: At what point in the prescription-filling process did I give my permission to opt-in? In other words, Shoppers Drug Mart, When did you ask, and I give, my written permission for you to disclose my prescription information to a third party marketing company?

This is wrong, bordering on corporate evil, in so many ways, and I will trust that the Ontario College of Pharmacists, the Ministry of Consumer and Corporate Affairs, and the Ministry of Health, will point out the error of SDM's ways in response to the letters I will be writing to each of them.

This program is run by a marketing consortium called Rx Canada, an unholy cabal comprised of the retail pharmacy industry, and the big pharmaceutical manufacturers. There is, of course, the obligatory Privacy Statement, not a word of which I believe for a second. They claim, " RX Canada only receives identifiable patient information if the patient agrees to participate in our programs. " I gave no such permission. In fact, the letter I received from Shoppers suggests that this is an opt-out program. And patients that choose to opt out are reminded, among other things, that "Canceling [sic - note the American spelling; does this give a clue as to where this comes from?] your participation means you will no longer receive ... telephone consultations with your pharmacist." Really nice customer service statement there, Shoppers.

Let me be clear: I am all for patient education and information. I am all for those with chronic conditions to maintain an healthy lifestyle, monitor key health indicators, and take appropriately prescribed medications regularly. Indeed, the majority of patients who are initially prescribed medications for chronic conditions do not maintain their medication regime beyond the initial prescription. This is, of course, what the companies involved with Rx Canada are seeking to address. Shoppers, AstaZeneca, and the rest of them don't really give a damn about my health. They just want me to keep buying: "By becoming an Rx Canada member, pharmacies and pharmacists can benefit in many ways [including] ... Supporting a pharmacy for pharmacy business model where program revenues are returned to pharmacies for professional services provided."

But they certainly don't encourage me to continue filling my prescriptions at Shoppers Drug Mart if I can't trust the pharmacy to safeguard my medical information from marketing companies.

From both the ethical* and marketing perspectives, this is wrong, wrong, wrong.

*Principle Three of the Code of Ethics for Members of the Ontario College of Pharmacists explicitly states, "Each member preserves the confidentiality of patient information acquired in the course of his or her professional practice and does not divulge this information except where authorized by the patient, required by law, or where there is a compelling need to share information in order to protect the patient or another person from harm."

Update (21 Jan 2008): This post was the number two "landing" page on my blog today, just after the main page itself. The vast majority of those hitting this page came from AstraZeneca and Shoppers Drug Mart, with no apparent referring URL. Fascinating.

Update 2 (22 Jan 2008): Today, up to the number one "landing page" by a 2:1 margin over the main page. The vast majority of landings are from AZ IP addresses. To all the AstraZeneca folk who are visiting, welcome! You may also be interested in this post.

Update 3 (28 Jan 2008): The resolution of the matter is here.

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aaron said...

Aren't web analytics great? That's beyond fascinating... that's very near damning evidence.

Lawrence said...

Go Mark go. I hope those letters you were going to send, you sent.

The responses will be quite interesting to read too.