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Tuesday, July 11, 2017

PRIVACY: Head of RI Medical Society says police should not have unrestricted right to your medical records

By Sarah J. Fessler in Rhode Island's Future

The General Assembly has passed legislation (H5469 and S656) that will significantly impair the privacy of virtually every Rhode Islander. 

The bill would eliminate the existing requirement that all police must obtain a warrant before accessing records in the state Department of Health’s prescription drug monitoring program (PMP).

The PMP is a database that contains information on virtually all drugs prescribed in Rhode Island by a health care provider, including painkillers, anti-seizure medication, mood stabilizers, diet pills, and sleep aids. 

Its purpose is to facilitate patient care by limiting over-prescribing, and assisting health care providers in recognizing when a patient may be engaging in drug-seeking behavior so health care providers can respond appropriately. 

It is a tool for health care, not law enforcement.

In allowing some law enforcement agencies access to PMP data without a warrant, this legislation provides virtually limitless access to the prescription information of any Rhode Islander if done as part of a drug “investigation.”

This legislation will leave chronic pain sufferers and other ill Rhode Islanders wide open for suspicion and investigation based on their legitimate prescriptions, while dissuading some doctors from prescribing medication to their patients out of fear of unfairly being accused of criminal activity.

Requiring a warrant for access to the PMP is no different than requiring a warrant to look through a person’s medicine cabinet. 

We do not require individuals to give over their prescriptions to law enforcement on demand, and should not allow similar action just because the information exists in a centralized database.

Rhode Island has a long history of strong patient confidentiality laws that protect patients and doctors from speculative law enforcement investigations. 

Requiring law enforcement to obtain a warrant before accessing the prescription history of tens of thousands of Rhode Islanders simply provides a judicial check to ensure that investigations are legitimate and evidence-based. 

Judicial review should remain the standard by which law enforcement is able to access such sensitive information.

While proponents claim the bill is necessary to stop so-called “pill mills,” we are not aware that Rhode Island doctors are abusing their prescribing privileges in this way, and we are confident that the DO would be capable under current law of addressing problems with any doctors who were.

In short, this legislation undercuts efforts to address drug abuse medically and is inconsistent with the very goals of the PMP itself. 

If you value your privacy, call Governor Raimondo and insist that she veto this invasion of your privacy, 222-2080.

Sarah J. Fessler, MD, is the president of the Rhode Island Medical Society.