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Telehealth Field Faces New Challenges in United States v. Zadeh

By Vera Gruessner

- The telehealth field has a wide variety of benefits for the medical care industry including increasing access to care for those living in remote, rural areas as well as offering specialized, quality care regardless of where a patient is located. The telehealth field can also serve a wide variety of different patients from elderly patients to young adults and the pediatric population.

Telehealth Technology

“It’s so important for parents to also understand that these technologies are available. If they knew the power of what it would mean to improving the lives of their own children, then we would see more rapid change,” said Mario Gutierrez, Executive Director of the Center for Connected Health Policy. “As the consumer understands the benefits of the availability of these technologies, the more demand there’s going to be to utilize them.”

Telemedicine services offer a wide variety of capabilities for providers and patients alike. Along with offering consultations from the privacy of one’s home as well as remote patient monitoring capabilities, healthcare providers are able to prescribe medication to consumers without needing an in-person visit.

The National Law Review reports that healthcare providers who are utilizing the tools of the telehealth field should learn more about the United States v. Zadeh case currently pending at the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The case will determine whether the Drug Enforcement Agency has the right to look through medical records without needing a warrant in order to decide whether the healthcare provider has broken controlled substances prescribing laws.

The court petition stated: “Respondent makes the following objections: (1) the Magistrate Judge adopted improper procedural standards for reviewing the Government's Petition and Respondent's Motion to Dismiss; (2) the Magistrate Judge incorrectly considered the absence of evidence relating to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act ("HIPAA"), (3) the Magistrate Judge was incorrect in determining that the Texas Occupations Code was preempted by federal law; (4) the Magistrate Judge applied an improper analysis in testing the Subpoena against the Fourth Amendment; and (5) the Magistrate Judge's adoption of the Government's limitations on the Subpoena results in the Subpoena being overly broad.”

The outcome of this law could impact prescribers who utilize telemedicine technologies. The case is looking to determine if the DEA has the right to view medical records of Dr. Zadeh’s patients to determine whether the physician violated the Controlled Substances Act. The DEA has not given specifics to why this particular doctor is under investigation or which part of his prescribing practice is questionable.

“Dr. Zadeh argues the forced disclosure of private medical information will have a chilling effect on patients’ willingness to openly share such information with their provider, hindering the information exchange and trust essential to the doctor-patient relationship and potentially jeopardizing patients’ health,” The National Law Review reported.

“The DEA argues that without access to such information, it is unable to investigate potential criminal activity in the healthcare industry, putting patients at risk of unlawful practices.”

The outcome of this case is pivotal for the healthcare industry and providers who utilize telemedicine. If the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals favors the DEA, this agency could begin issuing medical record requests with more frequency and could impact the privacy of patient data.

However, if the court rules in favor of Dr. Zadeh, the DEA’s administrative subpoenas will not produce access to private patient medical records. This could allow for sensitive redactions to be applied to all medical documents proffered to the DEA and require the agency to receive a search warrant before being given access to secure information.

Healthcare providers who are utilizing the technologies of the telehealth field would be wise to pay attention to the outcome of this court case, as it could affect the practice of telemedicine across the nation.


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