Thursday, February 7, 2008

Are We Ready for Globalized Personal Databases?

Flipping through the paper today I came across an Associated Press article titled Accidental Overdose Killed Heath Ledger. Heath was the talented 28 year old actor who passed away from an accidental overdose last month. According to the New York medical examiner's office, Heath died of of "acute intoxication" from the combination of two strong painkillers, two anti-anxiety medicines and two sleeping aids.

The AP article goes on to discuss how no one doctor would have prescribed all six of those medications because of the cumulative effects those medications would have if they were all taken at the same time. Reading a little further, I learned that three of the medications were actually prescribed and filled in Europe, where he had been recently filming. Could his accidental death have been prevented?

The first place my mind went was technology - it would be relatively simple to create a system that monitors prescriptions and it is being done in a number of states. According to the U.S. DEA Office of Diversion Control, as of December 2007, 35 states had enacted legislation which required prescription monitoring programs: 26 of those programs are currently operating and 9 are in the start-up phase.
Fourteen additional states are in the process of proposing, preparing, or considering legislation.

The DEA is also currently encouraging a national prescription management program. In 2005, President Bush signed the National All Schedules Prescription Electronic Reporting Act of 2005 (NASPER). NASPER is a grant program for states to create prescription drug monitoring databases and enhance existing ones. NASPER requires states to be capable of sharing information and prescription data among states. According to the DEA website, advantages of a national program may include an enhanced ability to identify and track prescription transactions across state lines. This is particularly important given the growing trend of filling prescriptions through mail order and Internet pharmacies.

Could a fully functioning national system have saved Heath Ledger? How about a fully functioning international system? If I could opt into a system like this would I surrender a piece of my privacy?

Later this month I'll be speaking at a futures conference in Dallas on globalization. My preparation to this point has focused around workforce and technology along with some politics and economics..... I'll be adding medical databases.

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