Tag Archives: detox

What Physicians Say on Workers’ Comp

At the 2015 Harbor Health MPN Medical Directors Meeting, a panel discussed current issues affecting workers’ compensation. The panel consisted of:

  • Dr. Tedd Blatt (moderator)
  • Dr. Craig Uejo
  • Dr. Don Dinwoodie
  • Dr. Minh Nguyen
  • Dr. Kayvon Yadidi

Question: What are the things physicians can do or should do to improve workers comp?

  • Physicians need to assist in training their peers. There is inadequate training of occupational medicine physicians on the nuances of the workers’ compensation system. This is something other stakeholders in the system could also assist with.
  • Physicians need to be considering psycho-social issues in the treatment of patients. These can have a significant impact on claim outcomes.
  • There is not enough training for physicians on how to properly write medical reports, especially in the workers’ compensation arena.
  • It is imperative that physicians are responsive to questions from the payers. Failure to respond in a timely way to questions causes delays in reimbursement and creates animosity.

Question: How should physicians be approaching the issues of opioids, and are payers willing to consider alternatives?

  • This is something that needs to be considered from the initial visit forward. These drugs can lead to long-term issues, and prescribing them cannot be taken lightly. Too many physicians just prescribe these to make the patient happy.
  • There are inadequate detox programs to wean people off these drugs. Patients tend to bounce from one pain clinic to the next, which just continues the cycle of using these drugs.
  • Payers are often hesitant to authorize detox programs or non-pharmaceutical pain management alternatives because they view these things as experimental.
  • Physicians will soon be required to utilize CURES, the California prescription drug monitoring program, prior to prescribing opioids. This is intended to identify people who are doctor-shopping to abuse the opioids.
  • If you don’t prescribe the opioids, the patient will find someone else who does. Until there is a consistent approach to how these drugs are prescribed, this will continue to be a problem.
  • This is the greatest physician-created public health crisis in the history of the U.S. These drugs are massively overprescribed and should only be used for a very short term for post-operative care. They should never be used for long-term treatment.

Question: What do you think about utilization review? Are there things that you feel should always be subject to utilization review?

  • All surgeries should be subject to mandatory utilization review. Too many physicians are conducting unnecessary surgeries, which cause harm to their patients.
  • Compound medications and medications not usually prescribed in workers’ comp should be subject to utilization review.
  • There needs to be a level of common sense in UR. It should not be used if the recommended treatment is part of the normal course of care for an injury. Payers also are sometimes paying more for the UR review than the actual service requested costs.
  • If you have quantified that a physician is producing better outcomes for injured workers, these physicians should be subject to less utilization review.
  • The UR process needs to be more selective and focus on the outliers, not routine care. The perception from providers is that UR is being grossly overused. Physicians view this as punitive.

Question: More physicians are becoming part of larger health systems. Is this a positive change?

  • This is a positive change because the physicians have a better support structure to assist in writing reports and navigating the nuances of the workers’ compensation system.

Question: Is the Affordable Care Act going to affect workers’ compensation?

  • We will see an increased focus on outcomes, and, if a physician does not deliver superior outcomes, then payers will not refer patients to them for treatment.
  • Many of the policies under the exchanges have high deductibles and, because of this, it is likely we will continue to see pressure to push treatment into the workers’ compensation space.

Question: What changes would you recommend on the claims administrator side?

  • There needs to be more focus on better internal communication within claims organizations. Physicians end up sending reports and responding to requests multiple times because the claims organization does not have good internal communication.
  • The fee structure is affecting the number of physicians willing to treat workers’ compensation patients. Many specialists have stopped treating workers’ compensation patients because they do not feel adequately compensated for the amount of work required.

Redefining Detox in Workers’ Comp

When most people in workers’ compensation hear the term “detox” they think of chemical detox, the process of removing or reducing the prescription drugs patients are taking to deal with their pain. Indeed, injured workers on drug regimens with questionable clinical efficacy (low function, low quality of life) need to go through a process to lower the dosage and number of drugs they’re taking or eradicate them entirely. Chemical detox can be very complicated; a benzodiazepine like Valium or Xanax can take as long as 18 months to wean and should typically be the final drug weaned because of how this category of drugs complicates the medication regimen and causes side effects. Methodone or Suboxone might be added to help facilitate the weaning, but they come with their own issues — significant clinical complications for Methodone and becoming a long-term maintenance drug for Suboxone.

However, if you think of detox only as a chemical weaning process, you can miss the most important component in affecting permanent change: the psychosocial aspect. Removing dangerous drugs without any plan for addressing how claimants can physically and mentally cope with their pain can lead to relapse.

Folks in the functional restoration field say that 75% of patients remain off 75% of their original drugs after 12 months if they are involved in a best-practices clinic. I’ve researched this issue over the past two years, visiting many detox and functional restoration programs. Functional restoration and detox facilities are not created equally, and not all physicians are knowledgeable or proficient in weaning.

I am absolutely convinced that best practices involve an interdisciplinary treatment approach. If you do not have a team composed of a licensed MD/DO to manage the medical and addiction issues, a licensed physical therapist to increase function, flexibility and stamina and a licensed psychologist to address psychosocial issues, the injured worker won’t make all the behavioral and mental changes required to stay off inappropriate drugs.

Work comp is deathly afraid of a psych-compensable diagnosis because it can open doors well beyond vocational, but we cannot ignore what happens in a patient’s conscious and subconscious mind. If you ignore the psychology behind addiction and dependency and neglect to address things like low self-esteem, catastrophizing and perceived injustice, the patient isn’t likely to truly and permanently change. Two to three months after being discharged as clean, the patient is likely to resume old habits of overusing or abusing prescription drugs. Relapse may also occur if the patient fails to learn non-pharmacological pain-coping skills like yoga, Pilates, stretching and other physical exercise.

It is tempting to try to close a claim upon receipt of a clean discharge from a detox facility. After all, the drug regimen will look as good then as it ever will, and it would be naïve to think that isn’t a driver in some cases. But if the goal is to truly restore claimants to as close to pre-injury condition as possible for the long term, do your homework on those conducting the weaning and take into consideration the body-mind connection.

25 Axioms Of Medical Care In The Workers Compensation System

  1. The right medical care at the right time is always in the best interest of the injured worker and almost always will result in the lowest claims costs.
  2. The right medical care at the right time will (almost always) result in an earlier return to work with less permanent residual disability.
  3. Evidence-based medicine is the right care for the legitimately injured workers. (There is a hierarchy on how to apply evidence-based medicine).
  4. To control worker's compensation medical costs requires both a fee schedule and an ability to control the frequency and the appropriateness of treatment. One without the others usually results in massive increase in medical costs for the system.
  5. The medical treatment fee schedule should be clear, easy to use, accurate and reflect the latest technology.
  6. A fee-for-service system may result in incentives for physicians to over-treat, inappropriately.
  7. In many jurisdictions Worker's Compensation is generally the last fee-for-service system.
  1. As long as workers compensation uses a fee-for-service system, medical utilization review is needed to make sure that the physicians will treat adhering to evidence-based medicine.
  2. Pharmacy utilization is problematic because of the “Medicalization” of the general population. (Medicalization is the direct advertising of symptoms and diagnoses to the general population by drug manufacturers, resulting in an overuse and/or misuse of some types of drugs and therapies).
  3. There is a significant problem with “off label use” of drugs in the worker's compensation system. (Off Label is the use of a drug for treatment that was not the reason for its approval from the FDA).
  4. Medical decisions should be made by medical professionals. Most Workers' Compensation judges, attorneys, and claims adjusters have little to no formal medical training and are not medical professionals.
  5. Poorly (inappropriate) placed incentives will result in poor medical outcomes. (There are several studies that demonstrate that allowing physicians to do self-referrals or to dispense pharmacy goods from their offices will usually result in a utilization of unnecessary services or inappropriate usage of drugs).
  6. Even if the doctor is not dispensing the drugs, opiates require regular visits to the doctor for renewal of the prescription and also may involve expensive drug testing; so there is a financial interest on the part of some doctors to prescribe opiates.
  7. Some physicians who prescribe opiates do not fully appreciate the addictive power of the drugs that they are using or the difficulty in detoxing the patients.
  8. There are currently enough treating physicians and specialty physicians in most urban areas; however there are not enough physicians (treating, orthopedic or neurosurgeons, etc.) in the rural areas to meet the demand. This problem will only get worse as the population ages and more doctors retire. It will also get worse if physicians leave workers' compensation due to the demand for their services due to the implementation of the federal universal health care programs.
  9. Many surgeons and other physicians want to perform their craft (do surgery, provide injections, etc.). They truly believe that their surgery or injections will work even if the prior treatments have not been successful or if current evidence-based medicine says surgery is not appropriate.
  10. Every patient looks like a good candidate for an MRI when there is an MRI machine in the doctor's office.
  11. Not every person with a surgical or potentially surgical condition is a good surgical candidate. Though pre-surgical psychiatric evaluations are required for spinal cord stimulators (post spine surgery), the same is not true for many other surgeries.
  12. It is difficult for a patient who is in intractable pain to believe that strong medications (including opiates) are not appropriate or are not good.
  13. It is difficult for a patient who is in intractable pain to believe that not having back surgery will have the same ultimate result as having surgery when the surgeon is saying (with confidence) that the surgery will cure all. Even though current evidence-based medicine says differently.
  14. Because “doing something is better than doing nothing” when the patient is in intractable pain, if the surgeon says surgery will not be successful, the injured worker will attempt to find someone who will say that the surgery “will be more successful than not having surgery,” and will then attempt to have the surgery.
  15. Patient advocacy is the application of appropriate treatment and patient encouragement that allows the patient to remain as functional and productive as possible.
  16. Patient advocacy does not always mean the pursuit of treatment a patient desires.
  17. Patient advocacy may require the physician to decline to do the treatment sought by the patient when that treatment is inappropriate.
  18. In Workers'Compensation, there are many (known and unknown) underlying non-industrial, psyche/social issues that may hinder or completely stop optimum medical recovery.