CMA fights to protect patient privacy in CURES prescription database

January 10, 2014

The California Medical Association (CMA) has filed an amicus brief with the California Court of Appeal in Alwin Lewis, M.D. v. Superior Court of the State of California, asking the court to give meaningful privacy protection to patient data collected in the Controlled Substance and Utilization Review and Evaluation Systems (CURES) database.

In this case, a Medical Board of California investigator testified that the board routinely obtains confidential prescribing records from CURES for all patients of physicians subject to medical board investigations, even where the complaint is unrelated to the patients or the physician's prescribing practices.

CMA believes that the current laws governing CURES and the manner in which patient prescription drug data is disclosed are inconsistent with the broad scheme of federal and state laws protecting the confidentiality and privacy of patient medical information.

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 also addresses how the current CURES law gives too much discretion to the Attorney General’s office and argues that there must be clear guidelines on the use and disclosure of CURES data to provide patients with the proper assurances that the information will only be used or disclosed for specified purposes.

With proper funding, maintenance and privacy safeguards, CURES has potential to benefit the public and physicians, assisting physicians in making informed prescribing decisions and helping to control drug diversion in the state. Unfortunately, for many years, the CURES program suffered from underfunding and understaffing that has hindered the adoption and use of CURES by health care practitioners. Recent CMA-supported legislation will provide a consistent funding source and the means for a significant technological upgrade of the system that currently contains over 100 million entries of controlled substances dispensed to patients in California. While this is a welcome upgrade for California physicians, it also highlights the importance of ensuring that proper privacy protections are in place for a database with increased capacity to maintain and sort large amounts of digitized prescription information on millions of Californians and share it with other state and national prescription drug monitoring programs.

Given the inevitable privacy and security concerns that come with such a technological upgrade, CMA’s brief urged the court to recognize that patients have a privacy interest in their medical information maintained in CURES and that prescription information in CURES deserves the same confidentiality safeguards as any other part of a patient’s medical records.

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


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