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Editorials

Last 50 Editorials

(Click on title to be directed to posting, most recent listed first)

Blue Shield of California Announces Help for Independent Doctors-A
   Warning
Medicare for All-Good Idea or Political Death?
What Will Happen with the Generic Drug Companies’ Lawsuit: Lessons from
   the Tobacco Settlement
The Implications of Increasing Physician Hospital Employment
More Medical Science and Less Advertising
The Need for Improved ICU Severity Scoring
A Labor Day Warning
Keep Your Politics Out of My Practice
The Highest Paid Clerk
The VA Mission Act: Funding to Fail?
What the Supreme Court Ruling on Binding Arbitration May Mean to
   Healthcare 
Kiss Up, Kick Down in Medicine 
What Does Shulkin’s Firing Mean for the VA? 
Guns, Suicide, COPD and Sleep
The Dangerous Airway: Reframing Airway Management in the Critically Ill 
Linking Performance Incentives to Ethical Practice 
Brenda Fitzgerald, Conflict of Interest and Physician Leadership 
Seven Words You Can Never Say at HHS
Equitable Peer Review and the National Practitioner Data Bank 
Fake News in Healthcare 
Beware the Obsequious Physician Executive (OPIE) but Embrace Dyad
   Leadership 
Disclosures for All 
Saving Lives or Saving Dollars: The Trump Administration Rescinds Plans to
Require Sleep Apnea Testing in Commercial Transportation Operators
The Unspoken Challenges to the Profession of Medicine
EMR Fines Test Trump Administration’s Opposition to Bureaucracy 
Breaking the Guidelines for Better Care 
Worst Places to Practice Medicine 
Pain Scales and the Opioid Crisis 
In Defense of Eminence-Based Medicine 
Screening for Obstructive Sleep Apnea in the Transportation Industry—
   The Time is Now 
Mitigating the “Life-Sucking” Power of the Electronic Health Record 
Has the VA Become a White Elephant? 
The Most Influential People in Healthcare 
Remembering the 100,000 Lives Campaign 
The Evil That Men Do-An Open Letter to President Obama 
Using the EMR for Better Patient Care 
State of the VA
Kaiser Plans to Open "New" Medical School 
CMS Penalizes 758 Hospitals For Safety Incidents 
Honoring Our Nation's Veterans 
Capture Market Share, Raise Prices 
Guns and Sleep 
Is It Time for a National Tort Reform? 
Time for the VA to Clean Up Its Act 
Eliminating Mistakes In Managing Coccidioidomycosis 
A Tale of Two News Reports 
The Hands of a Healer 
The Fabulous Fours! Annual Report from the Editor 
A Veterans Day Editorial: Change at the VA? 
A Failure of Oversight at the VA 
IOM Releases Report on Graduate Medical Education 

 

For complete editorial listings click here.

The Southwest Journal of Pulmonary and Critical Care welcomes submission of editorials on journal content or issues relevant to the pulmonary, critical care or sleep medicine.

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Entries in VA (16)

Monday
Jan282019

More Medical Science and Less Advertising

A recent article appeared in JAMA Open Access reporting that wait times to see a provider in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) have improved (1). You might remember that in the not so distant past the VA was embroiled in a controversy for reporting falsely short wait times (2). The widely publicized scandal was centered in Phoenix and led to the firing, resignation or retirement of a number of administrators in VA Central Office, the Southwest Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) and the Phoenix VA. What was not as well publicized, but perhaps even more disturbing, was that up to 70% of VA facilities also were reporting deceptively shortened wait times (3). Congress appropriated additional money for the VA to fix the wait times but it is unclear how the money was spent (2).

Now the VA reports that the wait times have shortened and compares favorably to the private sector. The VA’s history has to lead to some skepticism about the data. Is it true? Is it accurate? The short answer is that we do not know because the VA data is largely self-reported. The VA used a different method, the secret shopper approach, for the private sector assessment. In this method a caller requests a routine appointment with a randomly selected care physician in a given health care market. The reported VA data may not be representative of the VA as a whole. Only some metropolitan areas were selected and did not include non-metropolitan facilities and no facilities from the Southwest VISN where there was a known problem. Furthermore, the data is only for new patients requesting a primary care, dermatology, cardiology, or orthopedic appointment. Data for wait times to see other specialties is not reported.

An accompanying editorial by two VA investigators does a good job in explaining the nuances of the study (4). Editorials in response to a specific article are often authored by the reviewers. If these editorial authors were also the article’s reviewers, they can hardly be blamed for saying nice things about the manuscript since “biting the hand that feeds you” is usually a dangerous practice. However, why JAMA published the article in the first place is puzzling. Certainly, lack of timely access to healthcare is very important and lack of access has been associated with higher costs and worse outcomes (4,5). However, this article reports nothing about how the VA achieved this improvement in access. Was it by hiring additional physicians to see the patients or by hiring additional scheduling clerks or additional practice extenders such as physician assistants or nurse practitioners?

The VA data could be easily manipulated. If access by a limited number of new patients is all that is being reported, there may be a tendency to underfund other areas. What about other specialty areas such as oncology, nephrology, pulmonary, neurology, general surgery, ENT, audiology, and ophthalmology to name just a few? What about established patients? What about financial incentives? Were the administrators given bonuses for improving access in these highly selected areas but none or less in others? This is the system the VA used during the wait times scandal and likely contributed to the falsification of data (6).

As it now stands the manuscript represents more advertising than medical science. Medical journals owe their readers better. Hopefully, we at the Southwest Journal are doing a better job of publishing articles that allows the practitioners to better care for their patients and not administrators make their bonus.

Richard A. Robbins, MD

Editor, SWJPCC

References

  1. Penn M, Bhatnagar S, Kuy S, Lieberman S, Elnahal S, Clancy C, Shulkin D. Comparison of Wait Times for New Patients Between the Private Sector and United States Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Centers. JAMA Netw Open. 2019 Jan 4;2(1):e187096. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  2. Wagner D. Seven VA hospitals, one enduring mystery: What's really happening? The Arizona Republic. October 23, 2016. Available at: https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/arizona-investigations/2016/10/23/va-hospitals-veterans-health-care-quest-for-answers/90337096/ (accessed 1/25/19).
  3. 60 Minutes. Robert McDonald: cleaning up the VA. Aired November 9, 2014. Available at: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/robert-mcdonald-cleaning-up-the-veterans-affairs-hospitals/ (accessed 1/25/19).
  4. Kaboli PJ, Fihn SD. Waiting for Care in Veterans Affairs Health Care Facilities and Elsewhere. JAMA Netw Open. 2019 Jan 4;2(1):e187079. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  5. Roemer MI, Hopkins CE, Carr L, Gartside F. Copayments for ambulatory care: penny-wise and pound-foolish. Med Care. 1975 Jun;13(6):457-66. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  6. Robbins RA. VA scandal widens. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2014;8(5):288-9.

Cite as: Robbins RA. More medical science and less advertising. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2019;18(1):29-30. doi: https://doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc005-19 PDF 

Cite as: Robbins RA

Friday
Jun082018

The VA Mission Act: Funding to Fail?

Yesterday on D-Day, the 74th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy, President Trump signed the VA Mission Act. The law directs the VA to combine a number of existing private-care programs, including the so-called Choice program, which was created in 2014 after veterans died waiting for appointments at the Phoenix VA (1). During the signing Trump touted the new law saying “there has never been anything like this in the history of the VA” and saying that veterans “can go right outside [the VA] to a private doctor”-but can they? Although the bill authorizes private care, it appropriates no money to pay for it. Although a bipartisan plan to fund the expansion is proposed in the House, the White House has been lobbying Republicans to vote the plan down (2). Instead Trump has been asking Congress to pay for veteran’s programs by cutting spending elsewhere (2).

We in Arizona are very familiar with what is likely ahead if the VA Mission Act goes unfunded. One example is Arizona Child Protective Services (CPS). After enduring years of funding cuts after the 2007 recession, many CPS employees left and the caseloads of those remaining became unmanageable. In 2013 a scandal erupted when it was uncovered that over 6000 cases of child abuse or neglect were not investigated (3). Many legislators who were responsible for the funding cuts blamed poor management and eventually CPS was reformed as a separate agency.

Arizona schools may be going to the same direction as CPS. After reducing funding to the point that Arizona schools spend less per pupil that any state in the nation, Governor Doug Ducey and many of the Arizona legislators favor charter/private schools (4). However, tax dollars are funneled away from public schools by the expansion of the charter/private school voucher system (4).

The VA may also be getting this “funding to fail” treatment with the VA Mission Act. If confirmed, Veterans Affairs Secretary nominee, Robert Wilkie, would lead the effort to implement the VA Mission Care Act (2). With no funding Wilkie will undoubtedly need to take money from other VA programs leading to their failure. Down the road, he can expect criticism for the failed programs and be fired by a tweet as did the previous Secretary for Veterans Affairs (5).

Un- or under-funded mandates have become a favorite of politicians who take credit for voting for something good but avoid the blame of voting to pay for it. However, at the moment the economy seems sufficiently strong that Congress enacted a $1.5 trillion tax cut and can fund an expensive border wall. The VA Mission Act can provide the healthcare the VA has been unable to perform but only if accompanied by the $50 billion funding it requires to be successful.

Richard A. Robbins, MD

Editor, SWJPCC

References

  1. Slack D. Trump signs VA law to provide veterans more private health care choices. USA TODAY. June 6, 2018. Available at: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2018/06/06/trump-signs-law-expanding-vets-healthcare-choices/673906002/ (accessed 6/7/18)
  2. Werner E, Rein L. Trump signs veterans health bill as White House works against bipartisan plan to fund it. Washington Post. June 6, 2018. Available at: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/politics/ct-trump-veterans-health-bill-20180606-story.html (accessed 6/7/18)
  3. Santos F. Thousands of ignored child abuse allegations plague Arizona welfare agency. NY Times. December 10, 2013. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/11/us/thousands-of-ignored-abuse-allegations-plague-arizona-welfare-agency.html (accessed 6/7/18)
  4. Alan Singer. How charter schools buy political support. Huffington Post. August 10, 2017. Available at: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/how-charter-schools-buy-political-support_us_598c3149e4b08a4c247f287d (accessed 6/7/18).
  5. Robbins RA. What does Shulkin's firing mean for the VA? Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2018;16(3):172-3. [CrossRef]

Cite as: Robbins RA. The VA mission act: Funding to fail? Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2018;16(6):334-5. doi: https://doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc074-18 PDF 

Saturday
Mar312018

What Does Shulkin’s Firing Mean for the VA? 

David Shulkin MD, Secretary for Veterans Affairs (VA), was finally fired by President Donald Trump ending long speculation (1). Trump nominated his personal physician, Ronny Jackson MD, to fill Shulkin’s post. The day after his firing, Shulkin criticized his firing in a NY Times op-ed claiming pro-privatization factions within the Trump administration led to his ouster (2). “They saw me as an obstacle to privatization who had to be removed,” Dr. Shulkin wrote. “That is because I am convinced that privatization is a political issue aimed at rewarding select people and companies with profits, even if it undermines care for veterans.”

Former Secretary Shulkin’s tenure at the VA has had several controversies. First, as undersecretary of Veterans Healthcare and later as secretary money appropriated to the VA to obtain private care under the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Acts of 2014 and the VA Choice and Quality Employment Act of 2017 appears to have been largely squandered on administrative salaries and expenses rather than hiring healthcare providers to shorten VA wait times (3). Second, Shulkin took a trip with his wife to Europe eventually ending up at Wimbledon to watch tennis (4). The purpose of his trip was ostensibly to attend a London Summit with senior officials from the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand to discuss topical issues related to veterans. Although the summit occurred over 2 1/2 days, Shulkin and his wife traveled for 11 days at the taxpayer expense including a side trip to Denmark.

“The private sector, already struggling to provide adequate access to care in many communities, is ill-prepared to handle the number and complexity of patients that would come from closing or downsizing V.A. hospitals and clinics, particularly when it involves the mental health needs of people scarred by the horrors of war,” Dr. Shulkin wrote (2). “Working with community providers to adequately ensure that veterans’ needs are met is a good practice. But privatization leading to the dismantling of the department’s extensive health care system is a terrible idea.” Going on Shulkin states that, “Unfortunately, the department [VA] has become entangled in a brutal power struggle, with some political appointees choosing to promote their agendas instead of what’s best for veterans … These individuals, who seek to privatize veteran health care as an alternative to government-run VA care, unfortunately fail to engage in realistic plans regarding who will care for the more than 9 million veterans who rely on the department for life-sustaining care.”

However, the VA for many years has engaged in a relentless expansion of administration at the expense of healthcare. In the absence of sufficient oversight, Shulkin and VA Central Office did little to curb this trend (3).

Assuming he is confirmed, what will Ronny Jackson, Shulkin’s replacement, do? It seems likely that he will do exactly what Shulkin alleges and Trump apparently wants, i.e., privatize VA healthcare. Whether Jackson will be able to bend the large VA bureaucracy towards privatization is another matter given his lack of healthcare administrative experience. Shulkin may also be right that privatization may only reward select people and companies with profits rather than improving veterans’ care. Regardless, healthcare is more expensive than not delivering healthcare, so the price will probably rise. Time will tell, but something needs to be done. To paraphrase former VA undersecretary Ken Kizer, it is time for another “Prescription for Change” at the VA. 

Richard A. Robbins, MD*

Editor, SWJPCC

References

  1. Rein L, Rucker P, Wax-Thibodeaux E, Dawsey J.  Trump taps his doctor to replace Shulkin at VA, choosing personal chemistry over traditional qualifications. Washington Post. March 29, 2018. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/trump-ousts-veterans-affairs-chief-david-shulkin-in-administrations-latest-shake-up/2018/03/28/3c1da57e-2794-11e8-b79d-f3d931db7f68_story.html?utm_term=.7bcfe44b4ff6 (accessed 3-30-18).
  2. Shulkin DA. Privatizing the V.A. will hurt veterans. NY Times. March 28, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/28/opinion/shulkin-veterans-affairs-privatization.html (accessed 3-30-18).
  3. US Government Accountability Office. Better data and evaluation could help improve physician staffing, recruitment, and retention strategies. GAO-18-124. October 19, 2017. https://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-18-124 (accessed 3-30-18).
  4. VA Office of Inspector General. Administrative investigation: VA secretary and delegation travel to Europe. Report No. 17-05909-106. February 14, 2018. Available at: https://www.va.gov/oig/pubs/VAOIG-17-05909-106.pdf (accessed 3-30-18).

*Dr. Robbins has received compensation for providing healthcare to veterans under the VA Choice Act.

Cite as: Robbins RA. What does Shulkin's firing mean for the VA? Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2018;16(3):172-3. doi: https://doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc052-18 PDF 

Friday
Dec082017

Equitable Peer Review and the National Practitioner Data Bank 

The General Accounting Office (GAO) recently reported that Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) did not report most physicians whose clinical care was found to be, or suspected of being, substandard to the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) or to state licensing boards (1). The GAO examined 5 VAMCs and found required reviews of 148 providers’ clinical care after concerns were raised from October 2013 through March 2017. Of the 148, 5 were subjected to adverse privileging actions and 4 resigned or retired while under review but before adverse actions were taken. Only 1 of these 9 was reported to the NPDB and none was reported to his or her state medical board.

In response to GAO's report and in testimony to the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, VA officials said the agency was taking three steps to improve reporting of providers who don't meet required standards:

  1. Reporting more clinical occupations to the NPDB;
  2. Improving the timeliness of reporting;
  3. Enhancing oversight to ensure that no settlement agreements waive the VA's ability to report to NPDB and state licensing boards (2).

What is lacking in the report is determination if substandard actually occurred and how it was determined. The VA has 3 ways of identifying substandard care (1).

  1. Tort claims (the VA equivalent of a medical malpractice lawsuit);
  2. Complaints or incident reports;
  3. Peer review.

Each has major problems of accuracy and fairness at the VA.

The majority of US physicians have been sued (3). The minority of suits are associated with malpractice and malpractice has no apparent association with the outcome of the litigation (4). Over 90% of medical malpractice cases are settled out of court (5). A common misconception is that settling a case before trial means a large financial settlement. However, 90% of the 90% or 82% of all claims, close with no payment (5). However, the VA uses US District Attorney to defend malpractice claims (6). In many instances, the US District Attorney’s office settles the case without determining if there is malpractice. The VA then submits the offending physician(s) name to the NPDB or state boards whether malpractice has been shown or not.

Complaints or incident reports are common in many hospitals, and many, if not most, have little merit (7). However, the weight given to a complaint should be viewed differently depending on the source. When colleagues raise concern about a physician’s care this is more credible than a patient complaining about not receiving their narcotics to a patient advocate. In the GAO report it is unclear if this was a source the of possible substandard care.

Lastly, there is peer review. There are several problems with this process in the VA. The VA selects the “peers”. In many instances the reviewers are un- or under-qualified to review the case (6). Furthermore, the selected reviewers may be conflicted clouding a balanced and fair determination if the physician’s care met the standard of care. There are multiple instances of this at the VA, of which a couple have been cited in the SWJPCC (6).

No surprisingly, a bureaucracy in the federal government has suggested a bureaucratic solution to a nonexistent problem. The goal should not be for more bureaucratic reporting, but a system for determining if a physician’s care has met the standard of care. The VA has shown it is incapable of making this determination fairly and accurately. What is needed is an outside review separated from VA influence and politics. If malpractice is still questioned after an initial VA review, the medical schools or private practioners could provide a source of physician peer review. The case could be presented to a panel of non-VA physician peers chosen in an equitable ratio by the VA and the accused practitioner. In the absence of a more equitable review process, the VA will only succeed in driving away the quality practitioners the veterans need.

Richard A. Robbins, MD

Editor, SWJPCC

References

  1. General Accounting Office. VA health care: improved policies and oversight needed for reviewing and reporting providers for quality and safety concerns. Report to the chairman, committee on veterans’ affairs, House of Representatives. GAO-18-63 (Washington, D.C.: November, 2017). Available at: http://www.gao.gov/assets/690/688378.pdf (accessed 12/6/17).
  2. Terry K. VA medical centers fail to report substandard doctors, GAO says. Medscape. December 5, 2017. Available at: https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/889600?nlid=119420_4502&src=wnl_dne_171206_mscpedit&uac=9273DT&impID=1501593&faf=1 (accessed 12/6/17).
  3. Matray M. Medscape malpractice report 2017 finds the majority of physicians sued. Medical Liability Monitor. November 15, 2017. Available at: http://medicalliabilitymonitor.com/news/2017/11/medscape-malpractice-report-2017-finds-the-majority-of-physicians-sued/ (accessed 12/6/17).
  4. Brennan TA, Sox CM, Burstin HR. Relation between negligent adverse events and the outcomes of medical-malpractice litigation. N Engl J Med. 1996 Dec 26;335(26):1963-7. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  5. Chesanow N. Malpractice: when to settle a suit and when to fight. Medscape. September 25, 2013. Available at: https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/811323_3 (accessed 12/6/17).
  6. Pham JC, Girard T, Pronovost PJ. What to do with healthcare incident reporting systems. J Public Health Res. 2013 Dec 1;2(3):e27. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  7. Robbins RA. Profiles in medical courage: Thomas Kummet and the courage to fight bureaucracy. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2013;6(1):29-35.

Cite as: Robbins RA. Equitable peer review and the national practitioner data bank. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2017;15(6):271-3. doi: https://doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc152-17 PDF

Thursday
Mar162017

Pain Scales and the Opioid Crisis 

In the last year, physicians and nurses have increasingly voiced their dissatisfaction with pain as the fifth vital sign. In June 2016, the American Medical Association recommended that pain scales be removed in professional medical standards (1). In September 2016, the American Academy of Family Physicians did the same (2). A recent Medscape survey reported that over half of surveyed doctors and nurses supported removal of pain assessment as a routine vital sign (3).

In the 1990’s there was a widespread impression that pain was undertreated. Whether this was true or an impression created by a few practitioners and undertreated patients with the support of the pharmaceutical industry is unclear. Nevertheless, the prevailing thought became that identifying and quantifying pain would lead to more appropriate pain therapy. The American Society of Anesthesiologists and the American Pain Society issued practice guidelines for pain management (4,5). Subsequently, both the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) mandated a pain scale as the fifth vital sign (6-9). Most commonly these scales ask patients to rate their pain on a scale of 1-10. The JCAHO mandated that "Pain is assessed in all patients” and would give hospitals "requirements for Improvement" if they failed to meet this standard (9). The JCAHO also published a book in 2000 for purchase as part of required continuing education seminars (9). The book cited studies that claimed "there is no evidence that addiction is a significant issue when persons are given opioids for pain control." It also called doctors' concerns about addiction side effects "inaccurate and exaggerated." The book was sponsored by Purdue Pharma makers of oxycodone.

Almost as soon as the standards were initiated, suggestions emerged that pain treatment was becoming overzealous. In 2003 a survey of 250 adults who had undergone surgical procedures reported that almost 90% were satisfied with their pain medications. Nevertheless, the authors concluded that “many patients continue to experience intense pain after surgery … additional efforts are required to improve patients’ postoperative pain experience” (8). Concerns about overaggressive treatment for pain increased after Vila et al. (10) reported in 2005 that the incidence of opioid oversedation increased from 11.0 to 24.5 per 100 000 inpatient hospital days after the hospitals implemented a numerical pain treatment algorithm. As early as 2002 the Institute for Safe Medication Practices linked overaggressive pain management to a substantial increase in oversedation and fatal respiratory depression events (11). Articles appeared questioning the wisdom of asking every patient to rate their pain noting that implementation of the scale did not appear to improve pain management (12). The JCAHO removed its standard to assess pain in all patients but not until 2009.

The US has seen a dramatic increase in the incidence of opioid deaths (13). It is unclear if adoption of the pain scale and its widespread application to all patients contributed to the increase although the time frame and the data from Vila et al. (10) suggest that this is likely.

There have been other factors that may have also contributed to the increase in opioid deaths. The Medscape survey mentioned above asked participants how often they feel pressure to prescribe pain medication in order to keep patient satisfaction levels high (3). Specifically mentioned was the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems or HCAHPS. HCAHPS is a patient satisfaction survey required for all hospitals in the US. About two thirds of doctors and nurses felt there was pressure (3). The survey also asked respondents about the influence of patient reviews on opioid prescribing. Forty-six percent of doctors said the reviews were more than slightly influential. The surveys seemed to carry more weight with nurses. Seventy-three percent said the reviews were influential. Others have blamed pharmaceutical company marketing opioids as a way of reducing pain and increasing patient satisfaction (14). Clearly, there has been a dramatic increase in narcotic prescriptions. Not surprisingly, pharmaceutical companies have done little to curb the use of their products.

Earlier this year, former CDC Director Tom Frieden said "The prescription overdose epidemic is doctor-driven…It can be reversed in part by doctors' actions” (15). Some physicians have taken this as blame for the entire opioid crisis, including deaths from heroin and illegal fentanyl. There may be some validity in this belief since abuse of illegal narcotics sometimes evolves out of abuse of prescribed narcotics. However, the actions of the health regulatory agencies that mandated pain scales and created guidelines for pain management were not mentioned by Dr. Frieden. Also, not mentioned are the patient satisfaction surveys. 

About a year ago the CDC issued guidelines for prescribing opioids for chronic pain (15). These guidelines were developed in collaboration with a number of federal agencies including the Department of Veterans Affairs which was one of the first to mandate pain scales and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) which mandated HCAHPS. Pain is a subjective symptom and quantification and treatment are imprecise. The goal cannot be to deliver perfect pain management but to reduce the incidence of under- and overtreatment as much as possible. Someone needs to assess patients’ pain complaints and prescribe opioids appropriately. No one is better qualified and prepared than the clinician at the bedside.

No one condones the unethical practice of widespread prescription of opioids without sufficient medical oversight. However, meddling by unqualified bureaucrats, administrators and politicians emphasizes guidelines over appropriate care. As detailed above, the present opioid crisis may be an unattended consequence of the pain scale and opioid prescribing guidelines. Further intrusion by the same groups who created the crisis is unlikely to solve the problem but is likely to create additional problems such as the undertreatment of patients with severe pain. As I write this on the ides of March it may be appropriate to paraphrase a line from Julius Cesar, “The fault lies not in our doctors but in our regulators”.

Richard A. Robbins, MD

Editor, SWJPCC

References

  1. Anson P. AMA drops pain as vital sign. Pain News Network. June 16, 2016. Available at: https://www.painnewsnetwork.org/stories/2016/6/16/ama-drops-pain-as-vital-sign (accessed 3/2/17).
  2. Lowes R. Drop pain as the fifth vital sign, AAFP says. Medscape Medical News. September 22, 2016. Available at: http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/869169 (accessed 3/2/17).
  3. Ault A. Many physicians, nurses want pain removed as fifth vital sign. Medscape Medical News. Medscape Medical News. February 21, 2017. Available at: http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/875980?nlid=113119_3464&src=WNL_mdplsfeat_170228_mscpedit_ccmd&uac=9273DT&spon=32&impID=1299168&faf=1 (accessed 3/2/17).
  4. Practice guidelines for acute pain management in the perioperative setting. A report by the American Society of Anesthesiologists Task Force on Pain Management, Acute Pain Section. Anesthesiology. 1995 Apr;82(4):1071-81. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  5. Gordon DB, Dahl JL, Miaskowski C, McCarberg B, Todd KH, Paice JA, Lipman AG, Bookbinder M, Sanders SH, Turk DC, Carr DB. American pain society recommendations for improving the quality of acute and cancer pain management: American Pain Society Quality of Care Task Force. Arch Intern Med. 2005 Jul 25;165(14):1574-80. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  6. National Pain Management Coordinating Committee. Pain as the 5Th vital sign toolkit. Department of Veterans Affairs. October 2000. Available at: https://www.va.gov/PAINMANAGEMENT/docs/Pain_As_the_5th_Vital_Sign_Toolkit.pdf (accessed 3/2/17).
  7. Baker DW. History of The Joint Commission's Pain Standards: Lessons for Today's Prescription Opioid Epidemic. JAMA. 2017 Mar 21;317(11):1117-8. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  8. Apfelbaum JL, Chen C, Mehta SS, Gan TJ. Postoperative pain experience: results from a national survey suggest postoperative pain continues to be undermanaged. Anesth Analg. 2003;97(2):534-540. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  9. Moghe S. Opioid history: From 'wonder drug' to abuse epidemic. CNN. October 14, 2016. Available at: http://www.cnn.com/2016/05/12/health/opioid-addiction-history/ (accessed 3/2/17).
  10. Vila H Jr, Smith RA, Augustyniak MJ, et al. The efficacy and safety of pain management before and after implementation of hospital-wide pain management standards: is patient safety compromised by treatment based solely on numerical pain ratings? Anesth Analg. 2005;101(2):474-480. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  11. Institute for Safe Medication Practices. Pain scales don’t weigh every risk. July 24, 2002. Available at: https://www.ismp.org/newsletters/acutecare/articles/20020724.asp (accessed 3/2/17).
  12. Mularski RA, White-Chu F, Overbay D, Miller L, Asch SM, Ganzini L. Measuring pain as the 5th vital sign does not improve quality of pain management. J Gen Intern Med. 2006 Jun;21(6):607-12. [CrossRef] [PubMed] 
  13. Rudd RA, Seth P, David F, Scholl L. Increases in drug and opioid-involved overdose deaths - United States, 2010-2015. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2016 Dec 16;65. Published on-line. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  14. Cha AE. The drug industry’s answer to opioid addiction: More pills. Washington Post. October 16, 2016. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/the-drug-industrys-answer-to-opioid-addiction-more-pills/2016/10/15/181a529c-8ae4-11e6-bff0-d53f592f176e_story.html?utm_term=.36c5992fa62f (accessed 3/2/17).
  15. Lowes R. CDC issues opioid guidelines for 'doctor-driven' epidemic. Medscape. March 15, 2016. Available at: http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/860452 (accessed 3/2/17).

Cite as: Robbins RA. Pain scales and the opioid crisis. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2017;14(3):119-22. doi: https://doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc033-17 PDF