Program creates obstacles to 'doctor shopping'

It tracks prescriptions for pain medications, promotes safety

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter



Related story

Prescribing prognosis mostly positive

Prescription monitoring program by the numbers

14.2 million prescriptions in the system.

345,000 patient history requests.

10,000 prescribers and pharmacists enrolled in the program.

21 percent of state prescribers of controlled substances enrolled in program.

23 percent of state pharmacists enrolled in program.

Source: Washington State Department of Health

A new state program has created new obstacles for people "doctor shopping" for pain medications.

In January 2012, the Washington State Department of Health launched a prescription monitoring program, a secure statewide database that tracks prescriptions for pain medication and other controlled substances.

Since then, prescribers and pharmacists have used the database to improve patient safety and prevent people from doctor shopping to obtain numerous prescriptions to controlled substances, said Chris Baumgartner, prescription monitoring program director.

And, so far, the program is receiving a thumbs-up.

"The preliminary review is positive, and it looks like it has been an effective tool in patient care," Baumgartner said.

State law requires licensed pharmacies and practitioners that dispense controlled substances in the state or to Washington addresses to electronically report the prescription data. The program does not collect hospital inpatient data. The law pertains to all prescriptions of Schedule II, III, IV and V controlled substances, which includes certain tranquilizers, stimulants and pain relievers.

Since launching the program, the system has recorded more than 14.2 million prescriptions and facilitated 345,000 patient history requests, Baumgartner said. More than 10,000 providers have enrolled in the program, he said.

The program doesn't track how many times the system has prevented doctor shopping, but Baumgartner said the state has heard from physicians and pharmacists who used the system to uncover potential abuse and misuse.

The program has other benefits, too, Baumgartner said.

Health care providers have more information at their disposal, which helps prevent dangerous drug interactions and improve coordination between providers.

Pain treatment specialists can use the program to monitor a patient's compliance to his or her pain contract. Emergency room physicians can access the system to quickly identify a patient's medications, Baumgartner said.

"It's not just abuse and misuse," he said. "It's about patient safety."

While the program has been a considered success, it did face a security breach in October.

Someone used a physician's personal and professional information to set up a fraudulent account in the system, and then used the account to illegally access the records of 34 people. The state deactivated the account and urged prescribers to guard their account access information.

"When somebody has basically committed identity theft, there are not many ways to protect against it," Baumgartner said.

Still, the state took the situation seriously and added extra layers of security to the program, he said.

In the next year, the state hopes to use federal grant money to expand the program. Among the program plans is connecting the system to monitoring programs in other states and the Washington's health information exchange, and launching a study to evaluate the program, Baumgartner said.