"Pennsylvania's new law regulating unconventional wells that use hydraulic fracturing to extract natural gas has understandably raised some very important questions among physicians, especially those whose medical practices are located in the heart of this burgeoning industry.
"As physicians, our first priority is the health of our patients. We applaud the Corbett administration and the legislature for enacting a law that forces natural gas drillers to publicly disclose the chemicals they use as part of the hydraulic fracturing process. More importantly, language in Act 13 demonstrates their concern for public safety by empowering physicians, when they need to treat patients, with the ability to obtain from drilling companies "proprietary chemical compounds" not otherwise publicly disclosed.
"We appreciate Speaker of the House Sam Smith's recent statement that the language in Act 13 will not interfere with a physician's ability to appropriately treat patients, and will in fact facilitate that process. While PAMED agrees that Act 13's disclosure language is as strong as any in the nation, we also reached out to the Corbett administration to clarify physicians' confidentiality obligations under the new law with respect to proprietary information disclosed to them for treatment purposes.
"Corbett administration officials, along with the Department of Health responded quickly to our query. In a letter to PAMED President Marilyn Heine, Secretary of Health Eli Avila explained:
"Inherent in [physicians'] right to receive this [proprietary] information is the ability to share the information with the patient, with other physicians, and providers including specialists assisting and involved with the care of the patient. Further, reporting and information sharing with public health and regulatory agencies such as the Department of Health is necessary and permitted. In short, the information can be utilized in whatever manner is necessary to respond to the 'medical needs asserted' by the health care professional."
"We are gratified by the strong public assurances from the Department of Health, Speaker Smith and House Majority leader Mike Turzai that their intent in drafting the law was for physicians to be able to speak freely with their patients, other health care providers involved in the care of their patients, and appropriate public health officials. Those statements clearly demonstrate their commitment to the health and welfare of all Pennsylvanians.
"As the unconventional gas drilling industry matures in Pennsylvania, and our understanding of this technology evolves, we're confident that the administration and legislature will continue to be responsive to physicians' concerns for protecting patient health and preserving the patient-physician relationship."