Direct mail campaigns have been used in the health care industry by doctors and for doctors. While in the former instance, mail targeting has proven to be less than effective, with most people who are targeted with a message discarding it instantly as spam or something that they do not need at that point and therefore as something that does not concern them. In the latter case, where mail advertising strategies are used by drug companies to contact doctors with an alternative drug or medical instrument, there has been an increasing discomfiture among the medical community about the public circulation of material that was essentially part of a private and confidential medical consultation.
The lack of impact through methods of by direct mail campaigns used by doctors to target wider populations with promises of specific and personalized medical care have meant an increase in newer and innovative methods of direct mail targeting. Direct mail campaigns used to target doctors, on the other hand, raises a whole lot of issues pertaining to the ethics of this profession.
When doctors receive direct mail communication from drug representatives and salespersons, they are immediately alerted to the uncomfortable fact that what has been the subject matter of a private and confidential medical consultation is effectively in the public domain as a result of drug manufacturers colluding with data- mining companies to get information that is essentially strictly in the private domain.
New Hampshire State, for example, became the first to ban the use or sale of doctor's prescriptions for commercial or marketing purposes reserving the use of the option for research, law enforcement and patient education. Data mining firms contended that the New Hampshire law was unconstitutional as it hampered free speech. Finally, in a federal district court ruling, New Hampshire's law was overruled; the court held that the ban on direct mail campaigns curbed "commercial speech" and restricted the transmission of truthful information among companies and doctors.
More importantly, it held that the State did not have a substantial interest in preventing the dissemination of truthful information when remedies such as putting out alternative information were available to it. More than a dozen states, however, have considered passing similar legislation and are in different stages of progress on the matter.
Direct mail campaigns, doctors contend, involves not just a severe breach of privacy but also has the potential to alter the pattern of drug prescription among doctors, who might be influenced to prescribe more expensive drugs that might not necessarily provide better treatment than less expensive ones . In a country where millions find the private healthcare system already expensive and beyond their reach, the direct mail culture is only further commercializing an already highly commercialized arena and might become an added disadvantage especially in the current economic climate, and could, in the long term , lead to much social discontent.
According to doctors themselves, direct mail campaigns, do the work of distorting the patient-doctor relationship and in effect drives up costs. However, in a situation where the largest national body of physicians in the US makes millions of dollars each year by helping data-mining companies link prescriptions to individual physicians by allowing them access to their databases, the community of physicians needs to voice their concerns more vociferously than ever and launch a campaign against direct mail campaigns.