A pharmacy resisted a subpoena from Illinois regulators seeking information on medication errors, citing a federal law that encourages pharmacies to track medication errors, but protects the confidentiality of those records. The trial court agreed with the pharmacy’s position in Department of Financial and Professional Regulation v. Walgreen Company, 970 N.E.2d 552 (Ill. App. 2nd Dist. 2012), and granted its motion to dismiss the subpoenas. The Illinois Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling, finding that federal law privileged the medication error records from disclosure to the state government. Although federal law encourages pharmacies to track medication errors, it limits the uses to which the government may put the resulting records.
The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (DFPR) issued three subpoenas to Walgreens in July 2010, seeking reports of medication errors involving three specific pharmacists in Walgreens’ employ. It petitioned the circuit court to enforce the subpoenas in October 2010. Walgreens quickly moved to dismiss the petition, claiming that the records sought by the DFPR were privileged under the Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act of 2005 (PSQIA).
The PSQIA provides mechanisms for reporting and analyzing a wide array of medication error data. The law provided for the establishment of Patient Safety Organizations (PSOs) under the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). PSOs are independent organizations that gather and analyze medication error reports from doctors, pharmacies, hospitals, and other health care facilities within a designated geographic area. They cooperate and collaborate with the AHRQ and other PSOs with the goal of developing improvements in patient safety and reductions in the number of medication errors. The PSQIA provides that all reports made by pharmacies and other organizations to their local PSO are “patient work product,” and therefore are privileged from disclosure.