- Associated Press - Friday, October 28, 2016

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - A physicians group said the state’s medical board overreacted and confused the medical community after the discovery that about a third of doctors weren’t complying with board policy on tracking prescription painkillers.

But the board countered that sternly worded letters sent to 12,000 doctors last month already have helped catch hundreds of compliance problems with a state website intended to help curb the deadly misuse and abuse of prescription drugs. The letters followed an August audit by the state Pharmacy Board that identified doctors who weren’t registered on the website or weren’t using it properly.

“We’re very pleased,” said Tessie Pollock, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Medical Board. “The prescribers have been outstanding. Those that thought they had 100 percent compliance were willing to go back and find maybe that there were things they could improve.”

The Ohio State Medical Association said the threatening tone of the letters needlessly alarmed many of its members, despite the overwhelming majority of the infractions being minor.

“I don’t think improving compliance was anything that we’ve ever disagreed with,” spokesman Reginald Fields said. “We’ve always wanted to assure that physicians are in compliance with the law and remaining part of the solution. The letters didn’t spell out what the problem was with each individual physician and said they could face civil penalties. That was our concern.”

The Pharmacy Board review began an effort to improve use of an interactive website prioritized by Republican Gov. John Kasich that connects doctors, nurses, dentists and pharmacies. The site allows prescribers to check a patient’s opioid prescription history to prevent over-prescribing and doctor shopping.

The audit found the top 25 physicians who weren’t complying failed to run the required report on a combined 7,500 patients. That included one doctor who prescribed painkillers to 705 patients in one month without running one check.

Since the letters went out, Pollock said, more than 1,300 new accounts have been created and 150 Drug Enforcement Agency numbers have been added. Daily requests to access the site have skyrocketed from 83,544 to 95,100.

Questions and concerns began to arise immediately after letters mailed in late September began arriving in doctors’ mailboxes.

The medical board posted an update on its website Oct. 10, noting that most letters involved “non-egregious issues and minimal non-compliance matters” and “the median number of non-checks for each prescriber was in the single digits.” That update was more in line with other state boards, whose alerts came more in the form of friendly reminders.

Harry Kamdar, director of the state Dental Board, said that of 248 dentists who were found to be out of compliance 33 received letters saying they weren’t registered on the website and records were subpoenaed in seven serious cases. A generic reminder letter went out to all the dentists in the state, he said.

“Part of change management is you always want to do a soft launch,” he said. “You want to reach out to stakeholders, repeat the message several times so everybody hears about it, give them ample warning, so when we drop a hammer, it’s not quite as big a surprise anymore.”

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