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A health law professor at Drexel University says the new law governing a doctor’s access to information about drilling chemicals to treat patients is both poorly drafted and incomplete. Barry Furrow is the director of the health law program at the Earle Mack School of Law at Drexel University. Furrow says the segment dealing with a doctor’s access to trade secret information is lifted right out of an OSHA rule. But he says, the Pennsylvania law lacks the nuances and wider protections provided to workers under OSHA.
“If you look at the OSHA trade secret protections,” says Furrow, “it’s within a framework of a regulatory agency that has a lot of other mandates to protect the workers. The trade secret protections are limited, and the agency is out there protecting and has separate knowledge of the chemistry of these substances. This disclosure just sits there in the absence of a public health registry or any overarching public health framework when it comes to toxicity.”
Furrow says the OSHA regulations only apply to workers, whereas the Pennsylvania law applies to any patient.
Lawmakers, and even the Pennsylvania Medical Society, have said the intent of the law is not to gag doctors, or prevent them from discussing the toxins with patients and public health officials. But Furrow says the law is so vague, and lacks boundaries, that he understands why doctors are nervous.
“This confines doctors too much,” says Furrow. “It takes public health out of the picture and leaves doctors unprotected, whatever legislators may say.”
Furrow says a good lawyer wouldn’t advise his client on what a lawmaker says is the intent. He also says the OSHA rules allow the doctor to contest the confidentiality agreement. But there’s no such protections in the Pennsylvania law.