California’s Supreme Court hears patient-privacy case

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The state Supreme Court in California is being asked to decide a patient privacy case.

The state Supreme Court in California will decide whether the state medical board has the right to view patients’ medication records.

The court on Wednesday heard the case, which was brought by a doctor who says patients have the right to keep their records private and that the California medical board overstepped its authority by reviewing his patients’ records, according to CourtHouseNews.

It’s the latest battle over patients’ right to keep their medical records private. It comes at the same time that Americans worry about their personal medical information, particularly as electronic health records raise concerns about identity theft, exposure of information on the internet and the viewing of records by those not directly related to their care.

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In a survey released earlier this year, respondents said they fear that their medical data will be shared beyond their chosen provider and payer to retailers, employers or the government without their consent.

In the California case, the medical board viewed records of Burbank internist Alwin Carl Lewis’ patients, according to the publication. The case began when a patient filed a complaint against Lewis and the medical board launched an investigation and obtained a report for all of Lewis’ patients from November 2005 to November 2008.

Lewis took legal action challenging the board’s action, arguing it was a gross violation of his patients' privacy for the board to review all their prescription records.

The medical board accessed those records under a state law intended to allow the government to track doctors’ prescriptions for addictive drugs. Los Angeles attorney Henry Fenton, who represents Lewis, told the court that health data must be protected and not accessed "willy-nilly." 

RELATED: Efforts to curb opioid epidemic remain top priority for CMS

Given the state’s and country’s opioid epidemic, an attorney with the Sacramento Office of the Attorney General, said patients do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy when it comes to medical regulators monitoring prescription drug use, CourtHouseNews reported.