In this five-part podcast series, I am taking a deep dive into healthcare monitoring and how the pro-active use of a healthcare monitor can positively impact all stakeholders in the healthcare industry: the regulators, the healthcare industry and the consumers of healthcare services, the public. I am joined in this exploration with two individuals at Affiliated Monitors, Inc. (AMI), the sponsor of this series, Catherine A. Keyes, Vice President of Operations, and Jesse Caplan, Managing Director of Corporate Oversight. In this third episode, I visit with Keyes to discuss how an independent integrity monitor can be used in healthcare licensing and disciplinary proceedings.

I started off by asking Keyes about the situation where a state Medicaid Fraud Control Unit finds a provider billing for an unusually high number of patients or procedures per day. Through an investigation, the state unit finds poor documentation that looks like fraud. How can an independent integrity monitor serve as an overall part of a resolution? Keyes noted that initially such a settlement will allow the provider or clinic to continue to practice, which is important for Medicaid providers. Keeping a Medicaid practice open is often very important in some areas, where there are very few Medicaid providers, so having a Medicaid provider remain open is important, not just for the person whose business it is, but also in the community. Keeping or bringing up such a healthcare provider to professional standards is also important. Finally, it is critical all the way around to keeping pressure on the provider to make the promised changes to fix the system and it protects the public by bringing the provider in line with professional standards.

We next discussed the scenario where someone makes a complaint to a licensing board, the complaint is investigated, and the licensing board finds, among other things, that the practitioner’s patient records lack basic elements: for example, adequate notes about treatments. Keyes noted that oftentimes a complaint is made to a state regulatory agency, a licensing board, for example. It might be a dental board, it might be a medical board, it might be a chiropractic board. Most of these licensing boards have regulations that say what minimally should be included in patient records. And this is the standard you would hope that any kind of a medical provider is recording in writing. This is critical  for a patient’s medical care going forward.

Here Keyes believes that an independent integrity monitor can be an excellent option as it allows the healthcare provider to continue to practice while providing prompt feedback to the agency about whether the healthcare provider is making promised changes. This is because a straight suspension may hit the pocketbook without helping the provider make meaningful change.

Yet there is an equal if not greater benefit to the healthcare provider as the independent integrity monitor can provide tailored advice about how to bring the practice up to professional standards. Keyes provided a simple yet straight-forward example, “I once saw the difference between having a chiropractor’s friend act as a monitor and write an overly simplistic report – “the charts look fine” – and the in-depth feedback given by professional monitors: “the history of present illness needs to be more complete, including info about the effectiveness of other treatments received”.”

I asked Keyes about using an approach of an independent integrity monitor in a current situation such as the opioid crisis. She said that such use could allow an independent integrity monitor to track prescriptions and prescribers of opioids and other drugs. She said that as part of a multi-pronged approach to the opioid abuse issue, many states are looking to see who their high prescribers are and whether these are legitimate practices or just pill mills. A monitor can help a provider to put policies and procedures in place to (a) assess the underlying need for pain medication; (b) determine whether someone is actually taking the medications; (c) refer to other specialists for supplemental care: physical therapy, acupuncture, pain clinics; and (d) appropriately terminate care of patients who appear to be getting prescriptions primarily to re-sell the pills.

Yet the benefits do not end there as monitoring, as part of settlement agreement, could require the provider to reduce the number of pain patients and the quantity of pills prescribed over a certain period. An independent integrity monitor can keep the regulators informed as most state agencies do not have the staff available to track compliance with the details of such an agreement. Independent monitoring is paid for by the licensee. Such use of a monitor also works to protect the public by bringing the professional in line with national standards for assessment, treatment and follow-up of pain patients. Finally, using a monitor can allow the provider to remain open and demonstrate their commitment to improved practice. Healthcare providers are quick learners and, in some cases, putting a structured program in place is a relief.

Next up, using monitors in administrative proceedings not related to discipline and licensing issues.

For more information on how an independent monitor can help improve your healthcare entity’s ethics and compliance program, visit our sponsor Affiliated Monitors at www.affiliatedmonitors.com.

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