Tanner Adopts New Policy for Improved Approach to Chronic Pain Management
Posted Date: 11/13/2012
Patients who turn to Tanner Health System’s emergency departments for chronic pain medications will receive help—if not a prescription—from a new pain management policy now in place.
As rising levels of prescription drug abuse become a national problem and draw increasing concern from local law enforcement agencies, Tanner hopes the new policy will help both residents who may have an addiction to prescription pain medication and those who are living with untreated chronic pain.
“As physicians, we’re going to do everything we can to help someone with a problem,” said Tom Fitzgerald, MD, a board-certified emergency physician with Carrollton Emergency Physicians and physician director of emergency department operations and clinical management at Tanner Medical Center/Carrollton, Tanner’s most-visited emergency department. “But the emergency department is an extremely difficult place to treat problems with chronic pain because we only have the one encounter with the patient; we’re not where someone goes for a follow-up, so we can’t know if we’re simply helping someone with short-term pain or potentially causing harm by providing access to medications to which the patient may be addicted or may even be looking to sell.”
Dr. Fitzgerald, who authored the new policy after reviewing similar policies at other medical centers, said the policy is meant to ensure that patients are receiving the help they need.
“This is an effort to prevent addiction and injuries that can be caused by the abuse of prescription medications,” said Dr. Fitzgerald. “We’re fortunate to have an excellent medical community in this region, with plenty of primary care and pain management providers who can provide more effective care.”
The policy addresses chronic pain medication and sedatives. According to the policy, people who have pain that has lasted longer than six months—as well as those who have received medication more than eight times in the past year (or more than three times in the past month), those who have not followed-up for pain management care after previously receiving treatment and referral in the emergency department and those who are already in (or have been rejected from) a pain management plan—will not be eligible to receive prescriptions for pain medication or sedatives.
Rather, those individuals will be encouraged to follow up with a primary care provider or will receive a referral to the Tanner Pain Management Center, where patients can establish a relationship with a physician who can better manage prescriptions.
According to the Foundation for a Drug-Free World, there were 22,400 deaths caused by drug overdoses in 2005—the most recent year for which data is available—and opioid painkillers like those often prescribed for chronic pain relief was found accountable for 38.2 percent of those deaths, more than any other substance. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found that more people die each year from abusing prescription medications than die from heroin and cocaine use combined.
“The policy provides the flexibility to treat patients who need help,” said Dr. Fitzgerald. “Those who have been injured, suffered trauma or otherwise have a valid need for pain medication or sedatives will receive appropriate treatment. And those who are not eligible for these types of medications also will receive help through Tanner’s system of pain management specialists and behavioral health providers. Our patients won’t leave the hospital without somewhere to turn for help.”
The policy is in effect at each of Tanner’s three regional 24-hour emergency departments, including Tanner Medical Center/Carrollton, Tanner Medical Center/Villa Rica and Higgins General Hospital in Bremen.
Tanner Pain Management Center accepts appointments by physician referral only. More information on the service can be found online at www.TannerPainManagement.org or by calling 770.812.5701. To find a physician on Tanner’s medical staff to make a referral to Tanner Pain Management Center or to otherwise help address problems related to pain, call 770.214.CARE or Find a Doctor.