Amid Opioid Crisis, The Joint Commission Revises Pain Management Standards

This Aug. 15, 2017 file photo shows an arrangement of pills of the opioid oxycodone-acetaminophen in New York.  (AP Photo/Patrick Sison)ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Joint Commission, accreditor for thousands of U.S healthcare facilities, is revising pain “assessment and management standards” for behavioral health care, home care and nursing care center programs in the wake of the nation’s opioid crisis.

The moves are the latest by the healthcare accreditor to change the way patients are monitored and cared for when they have pain. Hospitals, outpatient care facilities and medical care providers have been criticized for their role in the nation’s deadly opioid epidemic for overprescribing prescription drugs without considering other treatment strategies.

“Effective July 1, 2019, new and revised pain assessment and management standards will be applicable to Joint Commission-accredited behavioral health care, home care and nursing care center programs,” the Joint Commission said Wednesday in announcing the new standards. “The program-specific standards follow new and revised pain assessment and management requirements for hospitals, ambulatory health care organizations, critical access hospitals and office-based surgery practices that The Joint Commission introduced earlier this year.”

One example of new changes is a “requirement that organizations facilitate practitioner access to prescription drug monitoring program databases,” the Joint Commission said in response to a request for comment on the new standards. Such databases can be helpful to medical care providers in preventing the misuse of prescription drugs or the illegal diversion of medications. Other new Joint Commission requirements call for healthcare organizations to develop pain treatment strategies that include “nonpharmacologic, pharmacologic, or a combination of approaches.” This is a change from previous standards that said “that treatment ‘may’ provide for such approaches,” the Joint Commission said.

Health insurers, too, have been upgrading their databases and more closely monitoring prescribing habits of physicians. Cigna, Anthem and UnitedHealth Group are closely scrutinizing claims to make sure patients are getting the drugs in the right place, in the right amount and at the right time while making sure patients and their doctors are adhering to recommended dosages established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Sam Smith