New WCRI study shows some services underutilized by workers’ comp doctors

According to the just-released results of a study by the Workers’ Compensation Research Institute, nearly one in twelve workers injured on the job and given narcotics are still on them three to six months later. The report released on the study, ‘Longer-Term Use of Opioids,’ asserts that this is a result of few doctors following recommended best-practice guidelines on preventing abuse. These include utilizing services in place -like drug testing and psychiatric evaluation- intended to help prevent overdoses, addiction, and diversion caused opioid misuse and abuse.

The WCRI study examined longer term use of narcotics in 21 states (to include our own Georgia and nearby Southern states Arkansas, Louisiana, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas) and how often the recommended treatment guidelines for monitoring injured workers with this longer-term use was followed by their physicians.

In most of the 21 states, the compliance rate was pretty low. “This study addressed a very serious issue: how often doctors followed recommended treatment guidelines for monitoring injured workers under their care, who are longer-term users of narcotics,” said Dr. Richard Victor, WCRI executive director.

Among the study’s findings:

  • Drug testing was used less frequently than recommended by medical treatment guidelines. Among claims with longer-term use of narcotics, 18-30 percent got drug testing in most of the states studied, with the whole study median at 24 percent. Over the study period, the percentage of workers with longer-term use of narcotics who received at least one drug test increased from 14 to 24 percent in the median state.
  • Use of psychological evaluation and treatment services continued to be low. Only 4-7 percent of the injured workers with longer-term narcotic use received these services in the median state. Even in the state with the highest prevalence of utilized services, only 1 in 4 injured workers with longer-term narcotic use had psychological evaluation and 1 in 6 received psychological treatment. Little change was seen in the frequency of use of those same services.
  • More frequent and longer-term use of narcotics may lead to addiction and increased disability or work loss. Nearly 1 in 12 injured workers who started narcotics were still using them 3-6 months later.

Dr. Victor said the study should assist public officials, employers, and others balance providing appropriate care to injured workers with reducing unnecessary risks to patients and costs to employers.

The study was based on nearly 300K workers’ comp claims and 1.1 million prescriptions associated with them across the 21 states studied. Claims represented involved injuries occurring between October 1, 2006 and September 30, 2009; some of these had prescriptions filled up until March 31, 2011. Overall, the data reflects an average of 24 months of experiences.

To me this study further underscores the fact that injured workers need caring professionals invested in their long-term well-being and not just their short-term care. As a workers’ compensation attorney who practices throughout Georgia, I have worked closely with my clients to help them acquire care with involved and responsive health care professionals. Please contact our offices if you need the services of someone who values your quality of care.

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