HealthLeaders Media News, October 5, 2016
A crackdown on a Seattle pill mill has disrupted care for thousands of Medicaid patients.
Patients of a network of now-closed pain treatment centers in Seattle have been seeking care in the regions’ emergency rooms, according to data from the Washington state Department of Health.
The state has been tracking former clinic patients of Seattle Pain Centers and has determined that more than 1,500 have sought care in hospital emergency departments since the clinic was shut down this summer. The tracking system does not identify the reason for the emergency department visits.
In July, the Washington State Medical Commissionsuspended the license of Frank D. Li, MD, alleging that he “consistently provided treatment that was an extreme departure from the standard of care, exposing patients of Seattle Pain Centers to risks of harm for opioid addiction, diversion, and overdose.”
Li ran eight clinics across the state. As of July, he had not been charged with a crime.
Noting that the “action may limit patients’ access to care,” the agency urged clinic patients to contact their health insurance company and primary care provider to continue with pain treatment.
According to The Seattle Times, area pain clinics have absorbed some of Li’s 8,000 patients. University of Washington Medical Center reports treating 800 of former patients, Swedish Medical Center has seen 600 and Washington Center for Pain Management has seen 500. Hospitals in Everett, Olympia, and Lakewood report seeing former clinic patients in their emergency departments, according to the paper.
As prescriptions written in July run out, area hospitals and clinics may see another wave of patients seeking pain relief.
Hospitals Urged to Prepare for Pain Patients
In addition to tracking former patients, the state offers a website for both patients and providers on the closure of the clinics. It warns hospitals to “Be prepared for an increase in patients who may be experiencing withdrawal from opioids, benzodiazepines, or other controlled substances.”
It also offers a dedicated email address for providers who have questions and can “give us information on the impact of this situation on clinical practice and resources.”
In response to the opioid epidemic, the state passed a law in 2010 spelling out rules for pain management. In 2009, the state recorded 17 times more deaths and seven times more hospitalizations than in 1995.
The rules require patients who meet a dosing threshold to see a pain specialist and outline the criteria a doctor must satisfy to be considered a pain specialist.