The Department of Veterans Affairs announced a new computer tool Monday aimed at helping doctors better monitor their patients’ use of prescription drugs, as the agency continues investigating claims of narcotic overprescribing and retaliatory behavior at the VA hospital in Tomah.
The program, called the opioid therapy risk report, provides information about appropriate dosages for patients experiencing pain symptoms. About 2,000 VA doctors across the country now have access to the program, said Carolyn Clancy, the VA’s interim secretary for health.
“We’re not waiting for reviews to be done to improve how we do opioid safety,” Clancy said Monday. “This just makes the right thing really easy to do... and that’s the whole point.”
The VA is investigating reports of overprescribing and retaliatory behavior at Tomah. Separate investigations also have been launched by the VA’s Office of the Inspector General and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
Reports from whistleblowers at Tomah indicated that physicians were prescribing more painkillers than most VA hospitals.
Clancy said previous investigations into overprescribing practices were inconclusive, but she noted that doses being prescribed at the hospital “were much, much larger” than those at other facilities.
She also noted that the rate of urine testing for patients receiving the narcotics was 57 percent at Tomah, lower than the national average among VA hospitals of 62 percent. “Which is another way of saying everyone needs to up their game,” Clancy said.
She said urine tests help doctors ensure that patients are taking the appropriate amount of the narcotics and help prevent patients from illegally selling the painkillers.
The hospital came under scrutiny in January amid reports of overprescribing practices that led to the overdose death of a 35-year-old Marine, Jason Simcakoski, in the hospital’s inpatient care unit. Clancy said the VA is also evaluating two other deaths that involved treatment at the hospital.
Clancy said a first phase of the VA’s investigation into over prescribing practices is nearly finished and a report will be released soon. She could not say exactly when; in early February, she said two investigations conducted by the VA would be finished within a month.