California To Study Online Drug Monitoring System
Kaiser Permanente will fund a study on a proposed computer system that allows physicians, pharmacists and some law enforcement officials to access medical records online in real-time in an effort to curb prescription drug abuse, the Contra Costa Times reports.
Supporters of the plan -- including the California attorney general's office, state board of pharmacy and Sen. Tom Torlakson (D-Concord) -- said the system could reduce the number of drug abusers seeking multiple prescriptions. Many experts say the plan could improve physician and patient accountability.
However, others, including privacy groups, are concerned about privacy and potential security breaches.
Siobhan Reynolds, founder of the not-for-profit Pain Relief Network, said systems like the one planned in California unfairly target chronic pain sufferers and their physicians.
California currently receives about $300,000 annually from federal grants and state general fund money for a drug monitoring program under which anyone who dispenses prescription drugs to patients must submit a monthly report to the state Department of Justice, which investigates anomalies in patients' cases. Physicians can request patient data, but a lengthy verification process slows their access to the information.
The new system would require pharmacists to submit daily patient records and supporters say it would expedite the physician verification process. A law (SB 734) authorizing a study of a real-time monitoring system if private funding was obtained passed in 2004 without opposition, according to the Times.
A nationwide evaluation of drug monitoring programs released in September by the Justice Department found that states with active prescription tracking systems report lower rates of prescription drug abuse.
Watchdog groups in 2007 plan to use the study's findings to lobby for more federal grants for the state programs, according to John Carnevale, a national policy expert who helped develop the study.
Once the California study is complete, the law's supporters will have to propose long-term funding for the project and other details to the state Legislature. It could cost up to several million dollars to implement the program and hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to operate. If approved, the system would be the first in the country, according to the Times.
Kentucky and Maine are currently studying real-time, Web-based monitoring systems (Benca, Contra Costa Times, 12/9).