The legal battle ensuing between U.S and Zadeh currently pending in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals is bound to have an impact on telemedicine healthcare providers and prescribers located in remote areas. In the case United States v. Zadeh, the contention is on whether the Drugs Enforcement Administration can access medical records in the absence of a warrant to determine if a provider has acted in violation of prescribing laws in the case of controlled substances prescription. The warrant is provided by administrative subpoenas. According to the case submissions the Drugs Enforcement Administration is seeking to access medical records for the patients of Joseph Zadeh a Texan physician.
According to the appeal submitted by Dr.Zadeh, he stressed that the ruling will have a negative impact on the willingness of patients to share their information. He further argues that this will hinder information exchange between the two parties affecting doctor-patient relationship. On the flipside in its submissions, the DEA argues that failure to obtain such records will be detrimental to its cause of fighting drug enforcement crimes. The DEA further argues that not obtaining relevant medical records will put the lives of many patients who rely on telemedicine in significant danger.
In the event of a ruling that favors the DEA, the DEA might use the precedent in greater magnitudes. This will give the DEA mandate to obtain medical records through administrative subpoenas, in as far as the records relate to the investigation. In addition, the provider can be instructed by the DEA to keep the investigation secret but in this particular case Dr Joseph Zadeh is not required to keep the DEA investigation secret.
If the ruling favors Dr.Zadeh, the DEA will not force the release of medical records. To obtain such medical records, the DEA will require prior permissions to act such as a search warrant.
Telemedicine has had its share of problems in the industry, and its prescribers should follow this defining case carefully as it unfolds.