Here's a PR challenge to the U.S. medical profession: Promote responsible billing to Medicare of prescription drugs. Okay, so government should stay out of medicine. But doctors, all of them, should regard government as a channel of assistance for patients, not to be abused via reckless practices, by however many physicians.
A U.S. Senate committee held a hearing this week on a report by the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services that, as The Washington Post put it, "More than 700 doctors nationwide wrote prescriptions for elderly and disabled patients in highly questionable and potentially harmful ways..."
The records of more than 2,200 doctors "stood out" in suspicious ways, and 736 of those "were flagged as 'extreme outliers.' Their patterns, the report says, raised questions about whether the prescriptions were 'legitimate or necessary.'
"For instance, 24 doctors wrote more than 400 prescriptions for at least one patient, including refills dispensed. One Ohio physician did so more than a dozen times, according to the report. The average doctor wrote 13 per patient.
"In another case, an Illinois doctor had prescriptions filled by 872 pharmacies in 47 states and Guam. General-care doctors, on average, had prescriptions for all their Medicare patients filled by 52 pharmacies.
"The cost to the government was enormous in some instances. Medicare paid $9.7 million for the prescriptions of one California doctor alone — that is 151 times more than the cost of an average doctor's tally, the report says."
The IG's findings are based on data from 2009, but that's not reassuring for today.
Said Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee concerned with the Medicare billings, "This is incompetency and lack of somebody being held accountable. It's fixable."
Not only Medicare administrators, but physicians and their professional bodies need to be part of the cure.
Doug Bedell has a background in journalism and PR and is the owner of Resource Relations LLC in Central PA, focusing on organizational and crisis communication. He’s the community manager of SimplyFair.net, a social network on fairness. On the Web, Doug’s at www.ResourceRelations.com. On Twitter, he’s @DougBeetle.
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