2012 has seen the nation’s Medical Boards come under relentless scrutiny for allegedly dropping the ball on regulating healthcare providers who write prescriptions for opioids and other potentially addictive drugs. 2013 will see the Boards react in full. We all know that when a Medical Board gets hit with criticism by Legislator A or Media Outlet B, the Board reflexively lashes out at Doctor C. For you as a healthcare provider to know how to protect yourself from biased and careless official investigation, you need to know what your regulatory overseer is thinking, and how you could be at risk no matter how ethically and safely you do your job. Here’s what is on Medical Boards’ “wish lists” nationwide for 2013:
1) Criminal investigations, in addition to administrative inquiries, for any patient overdose death. An excellent recent LA Times article roundly criticized the California Medical Board for what the paper viewed as lax oversight of doctors who lose patients to prescription drug overdoses. The Medical Board’s first reaction will be to raise the stakes by initiating a more clearly criminal inquiry against a healthcare provider when any patient fatality is even partly attributable to prescription drugs. The Board is out to vindicate itself. Providers who underestimate the Board’s desire for vindication are operating at their own peril.
2) Tightening up communication between coroners’ offices and Medical Boards. It’s good policy for coroners to immediately notify Medical Boards whenever a death is attributed even partly to prescription drugs. The danger, though, is what Medical Boards will do with the information as new reporting requirements become operative. In the hands of Medical Boards desperate to rebuild their tarnished reputations, this could easily become a 1-800-WHO TO TARGET NEXT hotline. That’s not what these new reporting laws intend, but I’m confident it will be their effect.
3) Finding criminal and administrative liability when a provider gives prescription drugs to an addict. Wait a minute: Isn’t it permissible under federal and state law to prescribe controlled substances to an addicted person? Yes. In fact, doesn’t the law of many states expressly prohibit discipline against healthcare providers who do this? Yes again. But in the recent LA Times article cited above, a Medical Board investigator said that a patient’s death was “the inevitable result” of giving narcotics to an addict. That sounds like a new theory of liability to me. Take it from a defense lawyer: An incorrect interpretation of the law does not always stop police from acting. Healer beware.
I will have more to say on these particular topics, as well as what I think 2013 will bring for the broader issue of prescription drug abuse. For now, take heed and make sure you’re in compliance with all the federal and state laws governing prescription painkillers and other drugs. Remember that PAINKILLER LAW is here to help you.
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