A Tale of Two Physicians
There are many factors that influence the outcome of a workers’ compensation claim. Some, such as the body part and nature of injury, come as no surprise. Similarly, the state of jurisdiction and associated regulatory requirements are long-recognized as having an impact. One might not consider however, the role of the prescribing physician and how their demographics and behaviors influence outcomes.
To illustrate this, here is a tale of two physicians, Physician A and Physician B. Both are committed to caring for their patients but have markedly different work environments and practice structures that influence their prescribing behaviors.
Physician A treats workers’ compensation patients in a big city. She is well-known and well-respected in the community and has a thriving practice. Physician A is employed by the local hospital and she supplements her salary by performing some in-office, minor procedures, such as skin biopsies and steroid injections for achy shoulders. She belongs to an accountable care organization (ACO) that has quality metrics in place to help its providers follow evidence-based medicine and best practice treatment models. These quality metrics, if met, result in some shared savings that are passed on to physicians as a financial reward for better outcomes.
Physician B sees patients in a rural setting in his own, private practice. For him, the efficiency at which he can see patients determines whether or not he will meet his overhead each month. His nurse fields as many patient questions as possible in advance, and he does a quick exam and writes a prescription. Physician B feels constantly inundated with the increasing changes in healthcare and technology. He has tried to incorporate evidence-based guidelines into his practice but, with everything else on his plate, he is frustrated at the mere thought of keeping up with the constantly expanding medical research. To supplement his income, he works with a physician dispensing company and speaks on behalf of pharmaceutical companies.
A claims professional, in the process of working her caseload, discovers that Physician A’s patient is taking large doses of opioid medications yet has never had any urine drug screens or other documented opioid monitoring. Physician B’s patient was identified by the PBM’s early intervention program as requiring further review. Physician B’s patient is seeing multiple physicians, filling prescriptions at multiple pharmacies, and has a high-risk of long-term opioid use and a high likelihood of prolonged claim duration.
Both physicians receive correspondence from the PBM requesting a Peer-to-Peer medication review. In addition to including all requisite patient information, the letter is courteous and professional, relaying the objective of speaking directly with the prescribing physician in order to discuss the findings and recommendations.
Two Very Different Reactions
Upon receiving the reviewing physician’s phone call, Physician A was appreciative and freely commented that she had missed opportunities to apply opioid monitoring strategies provided by the PBM. She also agreed to convert the claimant’s antacid to an over-the-counter version. The reviewing physician completed a report detailing his conversation with Physician A and submitted copies to her, the claimant’s insurer, the PBM, and the claims specialist. The agreed-upon changes took effect on the next refill.
In contrast, it took several calls from the reviewing physician to convince Physician B’s receptionist to let him speak with Physician B. At first, Physician B was quiet and did not offer much feedback to the recommendations provided by the reviewing physician. He was irritated by the request to switch the claimant’s brand medications to generic, interpreting this request and the entire call to be solely focused on cost savings. Once discussion about the claimant’s opioids began, Physician B couldn’t contain his anger, declaring, “This is my patient! You have never even seen this patient before, so who are you to tell me how to manage his pain?”
Having anticipated such a possible reaction, the reviewing physician calmly deescalated the conversation with careful and sensitive language to reassure Physician B that the recommendations are entirely rooted on evidence-based guidelines and that the control of the patient’s pain remains a priority. The reviewing physician was able to refer to alternative dosing schedules and non-opioid treatment options to address the patient’s neuropathic pain. He also pointed out that the medications being prescribed for insomnia could interact with the claimant’s pain medications, possibly resulting in over sedation and death.
By the end of the call, Physician B realized that he had indeed overlooked some of the medication interactions and opportunities to more effectively manage the claimant’s pain without the use of opioid analgesics. He did not verbalize this realization, but agreed to make some changes to the medication regimen. He was still reluctant to change the claimant’s antacid to an over-the-counter version, citing his experience that they are not as effective as those dispensed by pharmacies. A few months later, the PBM performed a retrospective review; the medication therapy had changed – except for the antacid.
While traveling different paths, both physicians responded favorably to the Peer-to-Peer intervention.
By understanding the challenges some physicians are facing and the impact they can have on prescribing behaviors, payers can be better equipped to engage physicians in cooperative care management. A collaborative approach emphasizing the patient’s safety can enhance the physician’s willingness to compromise with medication therapy recommendations. In the end, the result is a better outcome for the payer, physician, and injured worker.
This article was produced by Helios and not the Risk & Insurance® editorial team.
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Managing Chronic Pain Requires a Holistic Strategy
Chronic, intractable pain within workers’ compensation is a serious problem.
The National Center for Biotechnology Information, part of the National Institutes of Health, reports that when chronic pain occurs in the context of workers’ comp, greater clinical complexity is almost sure to follow.
At the same time, Workers’ Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) studies show that 75 percent of injured workers get opioids, but don’t get opioid management services. The result is an epidemic of debilitating addiction within the workers’ compensation landscape.
As CEO and founder of Integrated Prescription Solutions Inc. (IPS), Greg Todd understands how pain is a serious challenge for workers’ compensation-related medical care. Todd sees a related, and alarming, trend as well – the incidence rate for injured workers seeking permanent or partial disability because of chronic pain continues to rise.
Challenges aside, managing chronic pain so both the payer and the injured worker can get the best possible outcomes is doable, Todd said, but it requires a holistic, start-to-finish process.
Todd explained that there are several critical components to managing chronic pain, involving both prospective and retrospective solutions.
Prospective View: Fast, Early Action
“Having the wrong treatment protocol on day one can contribute significantly to bad outcomes with injured workers,” Todd said. “Referred to as outliers, many of these ’red flag’ cases never return to work.”
Best practice care begins with the use of evidence-based UR recommendations such as ODG. Using a proven pharmacological safety and monitoring opioid management program is a top priority, but needs to be combined with an evidence-based medical treatment and rehabilitative process-focused plan. That means coordinating every aspect of care, including programs such as quality network diagnostics, in-network physical therapy, appropriate durable medical equipment (DME) and in more severe cases work hardening, which uses work (real or simulated) as a treatment modality.
Todd emphasized working closely with the primary treating physician, getting the doctor on board as soon as possible with plans for proven programs such as opioid Safety and Monitoring, EB PT facilities, patient progress monitoring and return-to-work or modified work duty recommendations.
“It comes down to doing the right thing for the right reasons for the right injury at the right time. To manage chronic pain successfully – mitigating disability and maximizing return-to-work – you have to offer a comprehensive approach.”
— Greg Todd, CEO and founder, Integrated Prescription Solutions Inc. (IPS)
Alternative Pain Management Strategies
Unfortunately, pain management today is practically an automatic move to a narcotic approach, versus a non-invasive, non-narcotic option. To manage that scenario, IPS’ pain management is in line with ODG as the most effective, polymodal approach to treatment. That includes N-drug formularies, adherence to therapy regiment guidelines and inclusive of appropriate alternative physical modalities (electrotherapy, hot/cold therapy, massage, exercise and acupuncture) that may help the claimant mitigate the pain while maximizing their ongoing overall recovery plan.
IPS encourages physicians to consider the least narcotic and non-invasive approach to treatment first and then work up the ladder in strength – versus the other way around.
“You can’t expect that you can give someone Percocet or Oxycontin for two months and then tell them to try Tramadol with NSAIDS or a TENS unit to see which one worked better; it makes no sense,” Todd explained.
He added that in many cases, using a “bottom up” treatment strategy alone can help injured workers return to work in accordance with best practice guidelines. They won’t need to be weaned off a long-acting opioid, which many times they’re prohibited to use while on the job anyway.
Chronic Pain: An Elusive Condition
Soft tissue injuries – whether a tear, sprain or strain – end up with some level of chronic pain. Often, it turns out that it’s due to a vascular component to the pain – not the original cause of the pain resulting from the injury. For example, it can be due to collagen (scar tissue) build up and improper blood flow in the area, particularly in post-surgical cases.
“Pain exists even though the surgery was successful,” Todd said.
The challenge here is simply managing the pain while helping the claimant get back to work. Sometimes the systemic effect of oral opioid-based drugs prohibits the person from going to work by its highly addictive nature. In a 2014 report, “A Nation in Pain,” St. Louis-based Express Scripts found that nearly half of those who took opioid medications for more than a month in their first year of treatment then refilled their prescriptions for three years or longer. Many studies confirm that chronic opioid use has led to declining functionality with reduced ability to recover.
This can be challenging if certain pain killers are being used to manage the pain but are prohibitive in performing work duties. This is where topical compound prescriptions – controversial due to high cost and a lack of control – may be used. IPS works with a reputable, highly cost-effective network of compound prescription providers, with costs about 30-50 percent less than the traditional compound prescription
In particular compounded Non-Systemic Transdermal (NST) pain creams are proving to be an effective treatment for chronic pain syndromes. There is much that is poorly understood about this treatment modality with the science and outcomes now emerging.
Retrospective Strategies: Staying on Top of the Claim
IPS’ retrospective approach includes components such as periodic letters of medical necessity sent to the physician, peer-to-peer and pharmacological reviews when necessary, toxicology monitoring and reporting, and even addiction rehab programs specifically tailored toward injured workers.
Todd said that the most effective WC pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) provides much more than just drug benefits, but rather combines pharmacy benefits with a comprehensive ancillary suite of services in a single portal assisting all medical care from onset of injury to RTW. IPS puts the tools at the adjustor fingertips and automates initial recommendations as soon as the claim in entered into its system through dashboard alerts. Claimant scheduling and progress reporting is made available to clients 24/7/365.
“It comes down to doing the right thing for the right reasons for the right injury at the right time,” Todd said, “To manage chronic pain successfully – mitigating disability and maximizing return-to-work – you have to offer a comprehensive approach,” he said.
This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with IPS. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.