A Fully Implemented California Health IT System Fights for Funding

Date: April 4, 2013||   0  Comments

Close-up of the Rx prescription symbol on a computer keyboard.The political battle over state health IT implementation is in many places a battleground over the future, the potential benefits of novel technologies that have yet to be fully developed. However, in the state of California, such a battle is ongoing for a unique healthcare database that helped prevent patients from “doctor-shopping” and using duplicitous tactics to secure excessive amounts of prescription painkillers.

The computer network called CURES, the Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System, is a health IT tool used previously by both law enforcement officials and medical regulatory boards to access prescription medication history information.  CURES contains over 100 million entries of dispensed medication in California.

After the state dealt with a severe budget crisis beginning in 2008, funding for the network was cut off under a budget approved by Gov. Jerry Brown. Recently, the California state Attorney General Kamala Harris has fought to restore funding to CURES, which at one time had been called “an invaluable tool.”

The need for greater transparency, by leveraging prescription data and information technology, has been underscored by recent national statistics revealing that accidental death by prescription medication recently exceeded deaths by both firearms and automobile accidents.

In brighter news, California’s fiscal condition is steadily improving. CURES was reported in the LA Times to need $2.8 million to become more accessible and $1.6 million per year to allow it to remain in operation.

CURES is the nation’s oldest and largest prescription drug-monitoring program and once served as a model for other states. Today, it has fallen behind similar programs elsewhere. CURES data could be used to monitor physicians whose prescribing puts patients at risk. But it is not. – LA Times, January 11th 2013

Before being essentially gutted, reckless physicians & pharmacies, as well as doctor-shopping patients were red-flagged in reports, which were given over to law enforcement, regulatory boards, and researchers to assist in tracking the general trends in the use of Schedule II to IV controlled substances.

With such a large database, human monitoring of every transaction would have been impossible. The CURES system was designed to generate an automated Patient Activity Report (PAR), to deter prescription medication abuse and diversion, via rapid tracking.

In a March 2013 interview, Attorney General Harris noted that presently the CURES system is “on life support,” with a $400,000 annual budget and a single employee to monitor the system for the country’s most populous state.  Despite the fiscal issues that California has had to reconcile with, this is one health IT system that is likely to benefit a great many people, should it once again be fully operational.

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