Judge orders WebMD to resume data delivery

A federal judge in North Carolina last week ordered WebMD Corp. to "continue the uninterrupted and unaltered flow" of health claims data to business partner Quintiles Transnational Corp., after the two companies agreed to modify some of the information being sent by WebMD.

But after weeks of legal wrangling, a dispute over the data-sharing agreement between WebMD and Quintiles hasn't come to a close. The court case remains open, and the companies are still negotiating ways to address patient privacy concerns cited by WebMD.

A regulatory review prompted WebMD, an Elmwood Park, N.J.-based health care information provider, to halt data submissions to Quintiles late last month. Research Triangle Park, N.C.-based Quintiles then filed suit against WebMD, accusing the company of violating the terms of the data-sharing agreement.

A North Carolina state court issued a restraining order that forced WebMD to continue to supply the data to Quintiles, which does contract development and regulatory submission work for pharmaceutical manufacturers. WebMD tried to curtail the data deliveries after the state order expired, but U.S. District Court Judge Terrence Boyle extended the order early last week pending a hearing that took place on Friday.

The two parties had agreed to some data modifications prior to Friday's hearing. Patient ZIP codes would contain two to three digits rather than five, and birthdates would include only the month and year, rather than the date, month and year, said Quintiles spokesman Pat Grebe. Though she confirmed that Quintiles and WebMD are continuing to modify the details of their contract, Grebe declined to be more specific. If and when the two companies make other changes to their agreement, they will "give that input back to the [federal] judge," Grebe said.

"Quintiles is pleased that in open court, WebMD agreed to meet all of Quintiles' demands for data delivery, and that the court concluded that the issuance of an order to compel WebMD's continued performance was appropriate," said John S. Russell, Quintiles' senior vice president and general counsel in a statement. "This is the data flow we need for our Informatics products."

The statement also noted that WebMD's board was asked to establish a committee to look into how WebMD's management has handled the company's contractual obligations.

In a statement, WebMD said it would continue to provide data to Quintiles because the company certified that it has "cleansed" its medical, dental and pharmacy databases of information that could be used to identify patients. Additionally, WebMD said that Quintiles has supplied a statistician to certify that the data can't be easily identified and has provided legal experts to conclude that the modified data doesn't violate any laws.

Under the terms of their data-sharing agreement, WebMD provides health claiims data to Quintiles, which uses the information to perform market research for pharmaceutical makers and other health care companies about the effectiveness of their products.

This story, "Judge orders WebMD to resume data delivery" was originally published by Computerworld.

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