Calif. Supreme Court Expected To Hear Rx Database Privacy Case
The California Supreme Court next year is expected to hear a case over whether the state medical board's access to records in a prescription drug monitoring database violates patient privacy, InformationWeek reports.
The Medical Board of California began investigating Alwin Lewis, a physician, after a patient complaint was filed against him in 2012 over allegations of inadequate quality of care. Specifically, the patient alleged that Lewis made comments about her weight.
As part of the case, medical board investigators examined Lewis' prescribing history using the state's Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System, or CURES (Diana, InformationWeek, 10/8).
CURES was established in 2009 to help physicians and law enforcement officers see patterns of over-prescribing by physicians or drug-seeking behavior and drug-shopping by patients (Gorn, California Healthline, 12/11/13). The database also includes information on non-controlled prescription drugs.
When searching Lewis' prescribing records, the board issued an administrative subpoena for additional information on several patients' prescription and medical histories.
An administrative law judge then found that Lewis failed to act professionally because he kept inadequate records on the patient who initially filed the complaint. The judge also said Lewis overprescribed controlled substances. The physician was placed on probation for two years.
Lewis then asked the California Supreme Court to review the case.
Details of Case
In the case expected to go before the state Supreme Court next year, Lewis' attorney argues that limits should be placed on the medical board's use of CURES.
Ben Fenton, a partner at Fenton Law Group, said the court needs to determine whether the state medical board had the authority to query CURES without a warrant or demonstration of cause.
Fenton said, "We want the court to impose some requirements on the government before they're allowed to access this information," adding, "There has to be good cause by the investigator ... which justifies the intrusion into the rights of these patients."
Further, he noted, "In our case, the complaint related to the doctor had nothing to do with medications or controlled substances. It shows there are no limits as to when the government can access these records or what the government can look at."
Several organizations have submitted amicus briefs in support of imposing stronger protections over who can access CURES, including the:
- American Medical Association;
- California Medical Association; and
- Electronic Freedom Foundation.
In CMA's brief, the organization wrote that "technology has greatly increased the quantity of information available to the medical board and facilitates its ability to correlate data from different sources. Records that once revealed only 'a few scattered tiles of information about a person now reveal an entire mosaic' of a person's medical history."
CMA added, "Gathering information in CURES is cheaper and easier in comparison to conventional information gathering techniques used by the medical board in the recent past. It also allows for the medical board to proceed surreptitiously, evading the ordinary checks that constrain abusive government practices that violate patient privacy" (InformationWeek, 10/8).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.