Winning the War on Opioids
States can play a major role in the over-prescribing of opioid painkillers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among other measures, states can tighten control over pain clinics prescribing the drugs and bolster prescription drug monitoring programs that track painkiller prescriptions. The graphic above shows how those actions across three states reduced overdose deaths and the percentage of patients “doctor shopping” for multiple prescriptions.
State PDMP Regulation Important for Opioid Control
In July, the CDC’s monthly report Vital Signs identified the states with the highest and lowest prescription rates for opioid painkillers — and the range is wide. While most states have some form of a prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP), their levels of effectiveness vary widely due to differences in enforcement and a lack of consensus over the appropriateness of opioid prescriptions.
“Health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for painkillers in 2012, enough for every American adult to have a bottle of pills,” the report said. Alabama and Tennessee were the highest-prescribing states, writing 143 painkiller prescriptions per every 100 people.
The report also gave kudos to states that have decreased opioid usage through tightened PDMPs and state enforcement. In the continental U.S., California had the lowest rate of prescriptions written in 2012 (second only to Hawaii overall), with opioids prescribed for only 57 out of every 100 people, compared to the national average of 82.5. In fact, California’s numbers were below average for all types of opioid pain relievers, including high dose, long-acting and benzodiazepines.
The state’s success can be attributed to its Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System (CURES). The drug monitoring program requires dispensing pharmacy clinics to submit reports of all Schedule II through IV prescription drugs to the Department of Justice at least once per week, making its database an almost real-time source of patient prescription history. Health care practitioners can access the database to see a patient’s prescription history for painkillers dispensed anywhere in the state.
“Automated Patient Activity Reports (PARs) are available to physicians who log into their online PDMP accounts,” said Larissa Mooney, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry and director of the Addiction Medicine Clinic at UCLA. “These reports allow instant viewing of controlled substance prescription histories over designated time periods. Information provided by this database is one step towards reducing abuse and diversion of prescription drugs and their associated consequences.”
According to California’s Department of Justice website, the database contains over 100 million entries and responded to 1,063,952 report requests in fiscal year 2011-2012. Unlike other states, California does not require physicians to use the database before prescribing high-strength painkillers; their decisions to view patient histories are completely voluntary.
Dr. Karen Miotto, a physician in UCLA’s psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences department and leader of its addiction psychiatry services, told the CDC that supportive state agencies and medical associations have also bolstered the program, promoting its use through education initiatives.
Lack of addiction education in medical schools and too few substance abuse resources can undermine drug monitoring programs’ success.
“Physicians vary widely in their knowledge of substance use disorders and their ability to identify, diagnose and treat such disorders,” Mooney said. “Educating physicians on addiction risk factors, screening and clinical interventions could facilitate increased use of PDMP programs and incorporation of controlled substance prescription monitoring within clinical practice.”
Better education could spur physicians to identify patients at risk for addiction, seek alternative drugs for pain management, and prescribe only the lowest possible dose of opioids when necessary.
“Health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for painkillers in 2012, enough for every American adult to have a bottle of pills.”
— CDC Vital Signs; Opioid Painkiller Prescribing: Where You Live Makes a Difference; July 2014
In addition to lack of education, the report notes another key struggle states encounter with PDMPs is “complicated access and notarization procedures.” This is an area where state governments could intervene, creating policies to help streamline the process for those submitting and accessing data. California may have had an easier time with this since CURES is administered by its Department of Justice, rather than a pharmacy board or licensing agency, or Health and Human Services department.
State policies tightening regulation of for-profit pain clinics — or “pill mills” — could also reduce the prevalence of opioid prescription for non-medical use, a significant driver of demand for the drugs.
Another barrier may be the lack of a national database. Even in states with effective PDMPs, practitioners have an incomplete picture, seeing only what painkillers a patient has received in their own state but not others. While no plans for a national resource exist, the CDC report said the federal government can assist state PDMPs by “supplying health care providers with data, tools, and guidance for decision making based on proven practices,” and “increasing access to mental health and substance abuse treatment through the Affordable Care Act.”
Achieving More Fluid Case Management
Risk management practitioners point to a number of factors that influence the outcome of workers’ compensation claims. But readily identifiable factors shouldn’t necessarily be managed in a box.
To identify and discuss the changing issues influencing workers’ compensation claim outcomes, Risk & Insurance®, in partnership with Duluth, Ga.-based Healthcare Solutions, convened an April roundtable discussion in Philadelphia.
The discussion, moderated by Dan Reynolds, editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance®, featured participation from four tenured claims management professionals.
This roundtable was ruled by a pragmatic tone, characterized by declarations on solutions that are finding traction on many current workers’ compensation challenges.
The advantages of face-to-face case management visits with injured workers got some of the strongest support at the roundtable.
“What you can assess from somebody’s home environment, their motivation, their attitude, their desire to get well or not get well is easy to do when you are looking at somebody and sitting in their home,” participant Barb Ritz said, a workers’ compensation manager in the office of risk services at the Temple University Health System in Philadelphia.
Telephonic case management gradually replaced face-to-face visits in many organizations, but participants said the pendulum has swung back and face-to-face visits are again more widely valued.
In person visits are beneficial not only in assessing the claimant’s condition and attitude, but also in providing an objective ear to annotate the dialogue between doctors and patients.
“Oftentimes, injured workers who go to physician appointments only retain about 20 percent of what the doctor is telling them,” said Jean Chambers, a Lakeland, Fla.-based vice president of clinical services for Bunch CareSolutions. “When you have a nurse accompanying the claimant, the nurse can help educate the injured worker following the appointment and also provide an objective update to the employer on the injured worker’s condition related to the claim.”
“The relationship that the nurse develops with the claimant is very important,” added Christine Curtis, a manager of medical services in the workers’ compensation division of New Cumberland, Pa.-based School Claims Services.
“It’s also great for fraud detection. During a visit the nurse can see symptoms that don’t necessarily match actions, and oftentimes claimants will tell nurses things they shouldn’t if they want their claim to be accepted,” Curtis said.
For these reasons and others, Curtis said that she uses onsite nursing.
Roundtable participant Susan LaBar, a Yardley, Pa.-based risk manager for transportation company Coach USA, said when she first started her job there, she insisted that nurses be placed on all lost-time cases. But that didn’t happen until she convinced management that it would work.
“We did it and the indemnity dollars went down and it more than paid for the nurses,” she said. “That became our model. You have to prove that it works and that takes time, but it does come out at the end of the day,” she said.
The ultimate outcome
Reducing costs is reason enough for implementing nurse case management, but many say safe return-to-work is the ultimate measure of a good outcome. An aging, heavier worker population plagued by diabetes, hypertension, and orthopedic problems and, in many cases, painkiller abuse is changing the very definition of safe return-to-work.
Roundtable members were unanimous in their belief that offering even the most undemanding forms of modified duty is preferable to having workers at home for extended periods of time.
“Return-to-work is the only way to control the workers’ comp cost. It’s the only way,” said Coach USA’s Susan LaBar.
Unhealthy households, family cultures in which workers’ compensation fraud can be a way of life and physical and mental atrophy are just some of the pitfalls that modified duty and return-to-work in general can help stave off.
“I take employees back in any capacity. So long as they can stand or sit or do something,” Ritz said. “The longer you’re sitting at home, the longer you’re disconnected. The next thing you know you’re isolated and angry with your employer.”
“Return-to-work is the only way to control the workers’ comp cost. It’s the only way,” said Coach USA’s Susan LaBar.
Whose story is it?
Managing return-to-work and nurse supervision of workers’ compensation cases also play important roles in controlling communication around the case. Return-to-work and modified duty can more quickly break that negative communication chain, roundtable participants said.
There was some disagreement among participants in the area of fraud. Some felt that workers’ compensation fraud is not as prevalent as commonly believed.
On the other hand, Coach USA’s Susan LaBar said that many cases start out with a legitimate injury but become fraudulent through extension.
“I’m talking about a process where claimants drag out the claim, treatment continues and they never come back to work,” she said.
Social media, as in all aspects of insurance fraud, is also playing an important role. Roundtable participants said Facebook is the first place they visit when they get a claim. Unbridled posts of personal information have become a rich library for case managers looking for indications of fraud.
“What you can assess from somebody’s home environment, their motivation, their attitude, their desire to get well or not get well is easy to do when you are looking at somebody and sitting in their home,” said participant Barb Ritz.
As daunting as co-morbidities have become, roundtable participants said that data has become a useful tool. Information about tobacco use, weight, diabetes and other complicating factors is now being used by physicians and managed care vendors to educate patients and better manage treatment.
“Education is important after an injury occurs,” said Rich Leonardo, chief sales officer for Healthcare Solutions, who also sat in on the roundtable. “The nurse is not always delivering news the patient wants to hear, so providing education on how the process is going to work is helpful.”
“We’re trying to get people to ‘Know your number’, such as to know what your blood pressure and glucose levels are,” said SCS’s Christine Curtis. “If you have somebody who’s diabetic, hypertensive and overweight, that nurse can talk directly to the injured worker and say, ‘Look, I know this is a sensitive issue, but we want you to get better and we’ll work with you because improving your overall health is important to helping you recover.”
The costs of co-morbidities are pushing case managers to be more frank in patient dialogue. Information about smoking cessation programs and weight loss approaches is now more freely offered.
Managing constant change
Anyone responsible for workers’ compensation knows that medical costs have been rising for years. But medical cost is not the only factor in the case management equation that is in motion.
The pendulum swing between technology and the human touch in treating injured workers is ever in flux. Even within a single program, the decision on when it is best to apply nurse case management varies.
“It used to be that every claim went to a nurse and now the industry is more selective,” said Bunch CareSolutions’ Jean Chambers. “However, you have to be careful because sometimes it’s the ones that seem to be a simple injury that can end up being a million dollar claim.”
“Predictive analytics can be used to help organizations flag claims for case management, but the human element will never be replaced,” Leonardo concluded.