LOS ANGELES (CN) – California’s medical regulator did not violate patients’ right to privacy when it pulled records from a state prescription-drug database in an investigation of a doctor accused of over-prescribing dangerous medications, the state Supreme Court ruled Monday.
Burbank Doctor Alwin Lewis attempted to bat away the Medical Board of California’s charges stemming from a patient whom Lewis had told to lose weight using a diet plan that involved only eating five bites for lunch and dinner.
Lewis argued that during the probe, the board had violated his patients’ privacy rights by obtaining medical records from the prescription-drug database without a warrant or subpoena.
The doctor faced charges of unprofessional conduct, prescribing dangerous drugs, excessive prescribing and failure to maintain medical records, according to the court’s ruling.
After an eight-day administrative hearing, the judge only found that Lewis had acted unprofessionally, negligently and failed to maintain adequate records. The board gave him three years of probation.
In a Monday ruling, the California Supreme Court ruled the medical board had good cause to look at the records, balancing patient privacy against the investigators’ need to discipline and monitor medical practitioners.
In a 20-page opinion, Justice Goodwin Liu said that while questions of constitutionality and confidentiality were at play, the board did enough to “limit the degree to which patients’ privacy is invaded when the board examines their prescription records.”
He added, “We find that the balance tips in favor of the board’s interests in protecting the public from unlawful use and diversion of a particularly dangerous class of prescription drugs and protecting patients from negligent or incompetent physicians.”
Liu concluded the board did not violate the California Constitution by pulling patient prescription records from the database.
The court’s decision was unanimous with a concurring opinion from Justice Leondra Kruger.