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Volume 37 Number 16 page 7-7

Patients who purchase their prescriptions at Eckerd drugstores will be asked whether they want their private health information used for marketing purposes.

That was one of several changes Eckerd, headquartered in Clearwater, Fla., agreed to make to settle a six-month investigation by the Florida attorney general into its patient privacy policies.

According to Eckerd, the chain owns approximately 2,640 drugstores in 20 states and employs more than 8,000 pharmacists.

The drugstore chain and the attorney general announced the settlement last month in Tallahassee, Fla., in which Eckerd agreed to the following conditions, according to the attorney general’s office:

• Refrain from using prescription pickup logs or forms to obtain customer authorization for the use of medical information for marketing purposes.

• Restrict direct marketing of prescription drugs to customers who have provided written consent to use their medical information for such purposes.

• Advise customers what type of medical information will be disclosed and to whom.

• Disclose in a written communication who wrote and is paying for communications to customers.

• Provide in every communication the company sends to customers a free and easy way to withdraw consent to receive such communications.

Eckerd also donated $1 million to endow an ethics chair in the school of pharmacy at Florida A&M University, according to the release.

"It is especially fitting that the endowment from Eckerd be used to provide ethics training for future pharmacists," said Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth in the release. "The primary concern of a pharmacist should be the safe and effective treatment of patients, not marketing opportunities."

Butterworth initiated the investigation last December after John Newton, an assistant, discovered his signature on a prescription receipt log giving the drug chain permission to use his private information for marketing purposes.

"The fine print on a form certifying that the patient had the opportunity to receive medication counseling did not adequately inform customers that they would have their personal information used for commercial purposes," said Butterworth in the release.

A patient could "opt out" by notifying a pharmacy technician; however, the attorney general’s office found that two pharmacy technicians at one Eckerd’s drugstore were unaware of the "opt-out" procedures, according to the case file.

"We cooperated fully with the attorney general’s office and are pleased to amicably resolve this matter. The changes we have agreed to make to address the attorney general’s concerns put us at the forefront of the industry in the way we handle these programs,"said Jerry Thompson, senior vice president/pharmacy services at Eckerd’s, in a press release.

Thompson noted that the investigation did not find any evidence that Eckerd had improperly shared confidential patient information.

The corporation sold more than 100 marketing contracts to drug companies last year for which it received $1.9 million. In addition, the attorney general’s office found that drug companies were using patients’ medical information to urge them to switch from patent-expired drugs to medications still within their patent period, according to a July 12 Palm Beach Post article.

The Eckerd settlement can be accessed on the Web site of the Florida attorney general’s office at http://legal.firn.edu/ by clicking on the news release titled "Eckerd endows $1 million ethics chair at FAMU. . . ."

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