Florida Prescription Drug Monitoring System Comes Under Fire After Privacy Breach

Monday, June 24, 2013
By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

Florida health officials are looking to step up security of the statewide prescription drug monitoring database to protect patients’ information. This comes after 3,300 Floridians’ names, addresses, phone numbers, pharmacies and drug dosages prescribed were leaked, according to an article in the Sun Sentinel, published on June 14, 2013. The information was allegedly being used as part of criminal investigations, but some of the information breached was personal medical information and not part of the investigations. Now the Florida Department of Health (DOH) is trying to figure out a way to keep this from ever happening again.

Click here to read the Sun Sentinel article.


How the Information was Leaked.

So how did the records of 3,300 Floridians get released?

According to The Palm Beach Post, the list of names was part of a multi-county drug trafficking investigation by state, local and federal agents. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents and others allegedly queried the prescription drug database for the prescription drug history of four doctors and their pharmacies, along with six individuals accused of writing phony prescriptions for pain medications. The search supposedly brought up 3,300 names and drug histories. The records were turned over to the office of Florida State Attorney R.J. Larizza. Allegedly, the state attorney’s office released the information to five of the six lawyers representing defendants in the drug cases.

After the list had been released, a Daytona Beach attorney discovered his name on the list and has filed a lawsuit. The attorney is challenging the constitutionality of the database, calling it an invasion of privacy.

Click here to read the article from The Palm Beach Post.


What is the Prescription Drug Monitoring Database and Who is Using it?


The prescription drug database was introduced in 2011, as a way to prevent doctor shopping and to crack down on pill mills. The DOH states that the monitoring system saves the lives of those with prescription narcotic addiction on a daily basis.

According to a 2012 report, the database was used 2.6 million times by health care professionals. Law enforcement officials used it more than 20,000 times to help with criminal investigations involving controlled substances. According to the DOH, when it comes to the database, privacy is job number one.


Florida DOH Looks at Beefing Up Security of Database.

According to a press release from the Florida DOH, a workshop will be held on July 8, 2013, to look into stepping up the security of the prescription drug database. The DOH is also considering penalties for improper disclosure of information and developing a disqualification process for people who are credentialed to use the system, but not handling the information properly.

To read the press release from the Florida DOH, click here.


Our Opinion: Clear HIPAA Violation.


It’s our opinion that the leak constitutes a clear breach of both Florida law and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Regulation. Furthermore, the prescription database was not intended to be used for criminal prosecution or law enforcement purposes. Yet it is routinely being used to prosecute physicians, pharmacists and pharmacies among others. There is no surprise that there would be “leaks” of the confidential patient information in the database given all of the access and usage in criminal cases.

Contact Health Attorneys Experienced in the Confidentiality of Medical Records.

 
Our attorneys provide advice and legal opinions on confidentiality of medical records and medical information, including HIPAA Privacy Regulation, and are available to testify as expert witnesses on these issues.
 
For a list of applicable Federal and Florida legal authorities on "super-confidential" medical information such as mental health, HIV and drug or alcohol treatment records click here.
 
To contact The Health Law Firm please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.


Comments?

What do you think of the prescription drug monitoring database? Do you think it should stay or go? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.


Sources:

Kam, Dara. “Critics Skeptical of Official Moves to Safeguard Florida Prescription Database.” The Palm Beach Post. (June 19, 2013). From: http://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/news/crime-law/critics-skeptical-of-official-moves-to-safeguard-p/nYP8x/

“Privacy Breach Undermines Pill-Mill Database.” Sun Sentinel. (June 14, 2013). From: http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/2013-06-14/news/fl-editorial-pills-dl-20130614_1_database-data-breach-privacy-breach

Florida Department of Health. “Florida Department of Health to Enhance Privacy Safeguards and Accountability for Prescription Drug Monitoring Program Users.” Florida Department of Health. (June 19, 2013). From: http://newsroom.doh.state.fl.us/wp-content/uploads/newsroom/2013/05/061913PDMPSafeguards1.pdf


About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.


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6/24/2013

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