Thursday, October 16, 2014

Guidelines: How to Make Them Matter

There has been a lot of talk in the last couple of weeks about medical treatment guidelines.  North Carolina, Tennessee, Arizona, and several other states are looking into adoption of guidelines.

There is a lot of discussion about "evidence-based" vs. "consensus-based" guidelines as well.  While I'm an outspoken proponent of the evidence-based variety, I recognize that local political conditions can make adoption of such 3rd party guidelines difficult.  Politics is a poor excuse - states can benefit significantly not only from the credibility of 3rd party guidelines, but also from the fact that providers of such guidelines work constantly to ensure those guidelines reflect the most contemporary view of the medical evidence.  Consensus-based guidelines (where a state medical director or agency gathers a bunch of stakeholders and they all decide what's best for injured workers in a given state) tend to be static - they age... and they tend not to age well.  They also tend to be subject to influence from outside parties with vested economic interests (see Louisiana as an example).

But the debate between the two competing approaches to guidelines is actually a sideshow, a distraction that prevents regulators from focusing on what matters most: enforcement.

When reading proposed or adopted treatment guidelines for a given state, make sure you explore the extent to which you can successfully challenge treatment that falls outside of the guidelines.  For instance, let's say a medical treatment guideline states that prescribing opioid analgesics in excess of 50 mg MED daily is not recommended (as the ACOEM guidelines suggest).  And assume you have a case where the doctor is prescribing 250 mg MED daily... and that doctor has been unresponsive to requests for discussion regarding the case and has not provided the rationale for why he's prescribing outside of the evidence based guidelines.  Question: Now what?  

There are states that have good answers to this question.

In Texas, if those opioids are N drugs, the answer is required pre-authorization based on a 3rd party guideline (Official Disability Guidelines) and a utilization review process that is statutorily supported and has clearly defined dispute resolution mechanisms.

I was encouraged to read that in Tennessee, the goal is to ensure that any adoption of treatment guidelines is consistent with existing utilization review regulations (which include the ability for a payer to subject any schedule II-IV medication used for the purposes of pain management for more than 90 days to utilization review).

Those are guidelines with enforcement mechanisms.  If the adoption of guidelines doesn't come with enforcement mechanisms, they're still worth having (because good doctors will still be responsive to guidelines).  But those guidelines won't be as valuable as they could be if appropriate enforcement mechanisms are in place (because not-so-good doctors will ignore contemporary medical evidence and continue to administer sub-optimal treatment until the payer stops paying for it).

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1 comment:

  1. Michael,

    Excellent points as we need to be sure utilization review is the backstop of these medical treatment guidelines. Without an enforcement mechanism, as you point out, all is for naught. Nelson