Back in 2001, I hadn't been very long writing about health information technology before running into the dark side of electronic prescribing.
I was shocked, shocked (no really, I was) to learn there was a multibillion-dollar-a-year data-mining industry peddling to insurance companies and pharmaceutical manufacturers patients' and physicians' drug information, often without the knowledge or consent of either.
I'm no longer naive about how so many people in the healthcare industry are quite willing and able to make money selling out patients' privacy rights.
Last month, Florida Gov. Rick Scott said he opposed establishing a state prescription drug database that had been approved by the state Legislature and privately funded. Initially, Scott's people said the Republican governor believes the program would be ineffective against true abusers. At a press conference a few weeks later, he added privacy concerns to his reasons for opposing the program.
“I believe it's an invasion of privacy,” Scott was quoted as saying by the Miami Herald.
In the past year or so, there has been a movement away from a notion that dominated the healthcare IT industry during the preceding decade. It was that the collectors of electronic patient data had an inherent right to do with it as they see fit. Several data-miners whose challengers have brought cases against them in court have asserted their property rights over the rights of the patients whose sensitive personal information they have been buying, manipulating and selling.
Scott's activities often have graced the pages of Modern Healthcare, and not often in flattering terms. Maybe that's why his press office has not returned a call for comment on this story.
But, here's to you, governor. Although a number of states have gone ahead with similar drug reporting systems, I agree with your position. What this world doesn't need is one more prescription record database that can leak, be hacked or peered into. If the Drug Enforcement Administration can't keep up with fraudulent pill mills using its own prescription tracking systems, then it needs an overhaul rather than a duplicative state collection effort.
I live in Indiana, a national health IT leader in many respects, but also one of those states whose officials thought themselves clever in setting up a drug data base—and not just for prescriptions, but over-the-counter medications as well.
Here's a partial result from law professor Jonathan Turley's blog. See the photo of the grey-haired Hoosier grandmother? Thanks in part to Indiana's almost religious overreliance on health IT and a Javert-like obsession with the war on drugs, she was hauled out of her home one morning and taken to jail. Her crime? Buying two boxes of retail cold medicine in the same week.
There's an old saying: He had a hammer, so everything looked like a nail. We need to be judicious in applying healthcare IT to our problems. Scott got it right in seeing Florida's pill mill problem didn't need one more IT hammer.