Colorado to Discuss Retinal Scans, Fingerprinting to Secure Prescription Drugs

By Carlton Purvis

A retinal scan to verify that the person filling the prescription is the same person it was prescribed to, patient data sent over encrypted communications to check for drug interactions and preventing doctor shopping--all of this information, plus some, in a statewide database. This could be the future of medicine access control.

Colorado lawmakers want to make medication dispensing more secure by establishing a new medical database and requiring biometric verification when patients fill prescriptions, but critics of the plan worry that with the amount of data lawmakers want to collect, information breaches could be more damaging to patients than ever before.

HB12-1242 is under consideration by the Colorado General Assembly. If passed into law, the bill would require doctor’s offices and pharmacies to install biometric scanning devices to verify a person’s identity before dispensing prescription drugs or restricted over the counter items. The scanning devices would be used “to obtain a biometric scan of a person’s biometric identifier, such as a fingerprint or retinal scan, and to submit the scan to the database.” The bill is sponsored by Reps. Ken Summers and Tom Massey and Sen. Betty Boyd who say it is “necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, and safety.” The technology to implement the biometric verification will be donated to the state by Biotech Medical Software Inc. if the bill passes.

“One of the reasons [for HB12-1242] was to prevent doctor shopping by patients. Once you scan your finger when you’re at the pharmacy, all the medicine you should have, and your doctor’s visits or your medications would come up. They’re made aware at the doctor’s office and also at the pharmacy. If you have any medication that could create harmful interactions they’d be aware of that and where it was prescribed,” said a staffer from Summers’ office on Monday.

Summers’ office also says it would help confront Colorado’s meth problem by providing additional safeguards against people trying to obtain large amount of medications used to make meth.

“We see the future of America going in that direction, so we could be a leader by getting on board with that technology and software,” the aide said.

Before prescribing or dispensing medication, medical providers would be required gather to information including the prescribing doctor’s name, office address, medication instructions, and the name and address of the patient, in addition to their biometric identifier -- a fingerprint or retinal scan. In other industries, facial and vein recognition have also been used for verification.   

The patient’s data would be converted into a unique identifier and sent (encrypted) to the pharmacy. Only the receiving pharmacy could decrypt the information. That’s how it should work. But privacy advocates say gathering so much data would provide dangerously detailed information about patients if hackers decided to target the database.


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