February 21, 2007

Prescription Records for Sale

In January 2007, the new National ePrescribing Patient Safety Initiative (NEPSI) debuted with a high-profile article in Time magazine.

This web-based system is supplied free of charge to physicians, ostensibly to reduce prescription error rates. Revenue to pay for the information system comes from the participating pharmacies and insurers who save time and money.

Now there are accusations that this database has been developed to give drug marketers, insurance risk assessors, and employers access to patients' private prescription records.

According to a Government Health IT article, all the prescription records stored in the new NEPSI database are for sale:

Security makes little difference because every identifiable prescription in the country is data mined and sold daily. Nobody needs to break into pharmacies to steal our prescriptions; they are for sale. For example, market intelligence firm IMS Health reported revenues of $1.75 billion in 2005 solely from the sale of prescription records, primarily to drug companies.

In another article, Dr. Peel says that NEPSI sells data to large employers:

In 2006, the national Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association announced its Blue Health Initiative to aggregate and sell the claims, medical and prescription data of all 79 million enrollees to large employers. This database will include far more detail than e-prescription records, making the sales of Blues data worth far more than the billions in revenue from selling e-prescription records alone.

But Allscripts CEO Tullman denies that prescription data will be misused:

Patients and physicians will have unique access to all the information. It's not our data. We don't claim it's our data. [...] Google will have no access to data we receive as part of the electronic prescribing process.

What can you do?

  • Ask your medical care providers if they use the web-based NEPSI electronic prescription system.
  • Consider refusing prescriptions for conditions that you would not want your employers or government to know about. Some doctors will give out samples to their patients, and this might be a sufficient quantity to forgo a formal prescription.
  • A cash transaction by itself won't keep you out of the NEPSI database because it contains patient information and the prescription itself, not just billing information like an insurer's database might.
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