I recently received an email from the Patient Privacy Rights organization. They are conducting a campaign to protect the privacy of individual’s prescription drug information. According to their website, a Newsday article reports the following:
Randee Lonergan filled her prescriptions at the same pharmacy for years. But a month ago she was shocked to find the pharmacy closed and all her family’s medical records sold to a nearby Target store in Levittown. Her information was sold legally because of a loophole in medical privacy law that allows pharmacies to “auction off” customer records – including prescriptions, information about medical conditions, Social Security numbers and insurance records – “to the highest bidder,” Sen. Charles Schumer said yesterday. The practice of selling off records, Schumer said, is a nationwide problem. Federal law requires doctors to let patients know when their medical history is being shared. But the law allows pharmacies to sell patient information to other pharmacies, Schumer said.
This sounds horrible. Patients should have a right to keep their medical information private. No one should be able to buy information that would tell them whether I take Zoloff for depression, Flomax for frequent urination, AZT to treat HIV or Viagra for erectile disfunction (see video).
I was about to sign the petition when I realized that sometimes I do want people to know what medications I am taking. One of the major benefits of electronic health records (EHR) is that emergency room doctors who I have never seem before can have instant access to my current medications and my allergies. EHR can help to provide a patient’s network of doctors with standardized information which can help in the treat of medical ailments.
How can we limit patient medical data to only the people and organizations that we want to have it? Would providing strict patient privacy protection make a standardized EHR impossible? Is it feasible to restrict access to medical records in a manner which protects patient privacy, but enhances medical care? These are complicated questions of which we need to find an answer.