Beware of Prescription Drug & Medical Information Databases

The drumbeat for internet-accessible medical records is growing louder, as are calls in Georgia and other states for prescription-monitoring programs mandated by law. If patients care about retaining some semblance of confidentiality for their most private of information their personal medical and prescription drug records they will pay much greater attention to such moves than appears to be the case thus far.
In Georgia, the pressure for establishing a statewide data base for all prescriptions administered by doctors throughout the state is being fueled by the continuing reaction (some say, over-reaction) to the murder-suicide of wrestler Chris Benoit and his family last summer. The physician in Carrollton, Georgia who allegedly prescribed large quantities of steroids and painkillers to the wrestler in the period before he went off the deep end, is under federal indictment and is being impliedly blamed for the wrestler’s bizarre and ultimately tragic behavior.
Following the example of gun control advocates, legislators moving to establish legally-mandated prescription-drug monitoring programs appear to have concluded the best way to punish the few bad apples who abuse their medical licenses by over-prescribing drugs, is to inconvenience everyone who obtains a prescription for medication, and endanger the privacy of all such citizens. The data base that would be established by Republican-sponsored legislation would require pharmacists to report to the Georgia State Board of Pharmacy all prescriptions filled for drugs listed in Schedules II, III, and IV of the Georgia Controlled Substances Act. Those three lists cover the vast majority of medications subject to abuse or over-use, including pain-management and depression-control medications.
The new data base would include large amounts of sensitive data for each prescription thus reported; including the name, quantity and dosage of the medication, information identifying the prescribing physician, the patient’s name, date of birth and address, the “approved prescriber identification number,” and “other data elements.” The state’s Drugs and Narcotics Agency would monitor and enforce the reporting and data-basing requirements of the law. The data would be available to a wide variety of users, including law enforcement agencies, medical boards, and retail pharmacists.
While the legislation and its proponents assure the public the data base that would be established would be secure, the fact of the matter is no data base subject to so many user agencies and individuals can be “secure.”
States that already have established prescription drug data bases, or, like Georgia are in the process of doing so, are motivated also by the lure of federal dollars. President Bush, for example, signed legislation three years ago establishing grants for states to cover the costs of such programs…
…Until private citizens wake up to these dangers and demand protection for their medical records, state and federal legislators will continue to undermine such concerns.

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