Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Feature

AMA data operation makes millions, even monitors non-members

BMJ 2014; 348 doi: (Published 14 May 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g3119
  1. Leigh Page, freelance writer, 2525 North Talman Avenue, Chicago, Illinois, USA
  1. leighpage{at}

Leigh Page looks at the American Medical Association’s Physician Masterfile­—what’s in it and what is done with it

US physicians who don’t belong to the American Medical Association (AMA)—now the great majority of US doctors—are sometimes astounded to learn that the AMA is collecting data on them and selling it to commercial enterprises for millions of dollars.

The AMA Physician Masterfile contains files on all doctors of medicine, whether or not they are AMA members, and many osteopathic doctors. They can view their own file and submit proposed changes through a secure portal.1 The file includes mailing addresses, phone numbers, medical school, postgraduate training, board certification and licensure information, as well as individual Drug Enforcement Agency and National Provider Identification numbers.

It’s a huge dataset. Just over a million names are in the Masterfile, of which 784 633 are doctors in patient care, according to the AMA. The rest are physicians in administrative posts, medical students, and many deceased doctors, whose information is retained to prevent identity theft.

The Masterfile is used for chiefly four activities: scientific research, including internally produced AMA reports; credentialing for hospitals and managed care; direct mail operations, including subscriptions; and its most controversial use: the data, combined with physicians’ prescribing data, are sold to pharmaceutical companies for use by sales representatives.

All the data are a major source of revenue, pumping almost $52m (£31m; €38m) into the AMA’s coffers, according to its annual report for 2012, the latest year available.2 The report also said it cost just $8.8m to administer the data, making for a 650% return on investment.

The AMA uses this money to supplement relatively paltry dues income: $38.7m in 2012. Only an estimated 18% of practicing US physicians are AMA members and there have been no dues increases for many years. …

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