Peel: Electronic prescribing is no panacea

When a coalition of technology companies, insurers and health care providers launched a $100 million project last month to provide free electronic prescribing software to every physician in the United States, it was greeted with cheers. The presence of brand name vendors was supposed to ensure that sensitive prescription records would be private and secure.

But those who believe there is anything private about e-prescribing under the National ePrescribing Patient Safety Initiative (NEPSI) — or any other e-prescription system — are simply incorrect.

Security makes little difference because every identifiable prescription in the country is data mined and sold daily. Nobody needs to break into pharmacies to steal our prescriptions; they are for sale. For example, market intelligence firm IMS Health reported revenues of  $1.75 billion in 2005 solely from the sale of prescription records, primarily to drug companies.

Privacy is the right to control who sees your sensitive health records and the right to decide if those records are even entered into electronic systems. But it is impossible for anyone to have a private prescription — meaning that it is never disclosed without a patient’s consent — because data mining has eliminated that right.

Furthermore, many people refuse to take psychiatric medication or other medications in an attempt to prevent the pharmacy benefits management industry from reporting to employers that they are on antidepressants or other medications.

Knowing that prescriptions are not private also keeps people with other sensitive illnesses from taking medications. And that exerts pressure on doctors to avoid prescribing pain medications — out of concern that the Drug Enforcement Administration is tracking their prescribing patterns. The lack of prescription privacy is a problem that endangers people’s lives and quality of life.

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