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CMA tells California Supreme Court it must protect patient data in CURES



November 02, 2015

The California Medical Association (CMA) has filed an amicus brief with the California Supreme Court asking that it give meaningful privacy protection to patient data contained in the Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System (CURES) database. CMA was joined on the brief by the American Medical Association, California Psychiatric Association, California Dental Association and the American Dental Association.

This case, Lewis v. Superior Court (Medical Board), examines the constitutionality of the Medical Board of California's practice of routinely data mining the confidential prescription records of California patients. In response to a patient complaint—a complaint that had nothing to do with Dr. Lewis's prescribing practices—the medical board investigator accessed from CURES the prescribing records of every single one of Dr. Lewis's patients during a three-year period. In addition, it obtained three years of confidential prescription records for all medications, including non-controlled substances, dispensed to Dr. Lewis's patients from the corporate headquarters of CVS Pharmacy. The information obtained identified patients by name and included details about medications prescribed to them. The medical board did not obtain any patient authorizations, warrants or issue subpoenas prior to accessing this patient data.

 

CMA’s amicus brief underscores the importance of confidentiality of medical information as an indispensable component of quality medical care. It explains the importance of recognizing that patients have a privacy interest in their medical information maintained in CURES, despite the government’s arguments that patients have a diminished expectation of privacy in their prescription data. The brief shows how prescription records can reveal sensitive information about an individual’s medical condition and argues that the medical board’s routine, unfettered and indiscriminate access to prescription data from CURES circumvents existing laws protecting the confidentiality of medical records.

 

The brief also addresses the heightened importance of protecting patient privacy rights in the digital age where technology has facilitated the government’s ability to store and mine large amounts of data. The ACLU of California and the Electronic Frontier Foundation also filed amicus briefs in this case in support of Dr. Lewis.

 

The California Supreme Court will likely schedule oral arguments in this case in 2016.

 

Contact: CMA's Center for Legal Affairs, (800) 786-4262 or legalinfo@cmadocs.org.

 

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