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Washington State’s Standard of Care Law

This is the Washington State Law now being used to attack doctors in pain management using “standard of care” as the reason. When you read this law, it sounds benign as all laws sound when the average person reads them. But the government turns the law into a sharp-edged sword at their whim. And doctors are the victims.

WAC 246-919-850

Pain management—Intent.

These rules govern the use of opioids in the treatment of patients for chronic noncancer pain.

The Washington state medical quality assurance commission (commission) recognizes that principles of quality medical practice dictate that the people of the state of Washington have access to appropriate and effective pain relief. The appropriate application of up-to-date knowledge and treatment modalities can serve to improve the quality of life for those patients who suffer from pain as well as reduce the morbidity and costs associated with untreated or inappropriately treated pain. For the purposes of this rule, the inappropriate treatment of pain includes nontreatment, undertreatment, overtreatment, and the continued use of ineffective treatments.

The diagnosis and treatment of pain is integral to the practice of medicine. The commission encourages physicians to view pain management as a part of quality medical practice for all patients with pain, acute or chronic, and it is especially urgent for patients who experience pain as a result of terminal illness. All physicians should become knowledgeable about assessing patients’ pain and effective methods of pain treatment, as well as statutory requirements for prescribing controlled substances. Accordingly, this rule has been developed to clarify the commission’s position on pain control, particularly as related to the use of controlled substances, to alleviate physician uncertainty and to encourage better pain management.

Inappropriate pain treatment may result from a physician’s lack of knowledge about pain management. Fears of investigation or sanction by federal, state, and local agencies may also result in inappropriate treatment of pain. Appropriate pain management is the treating physician’s responsibility. As such, the commission will consider the inappropriate treatment of pain to be a departure from standards of practice and will investigate such allegations, recognizing that some types of pain cannot be completely relieved, and taking into account whether the treatment is appropriate for the diagnosis.

The commission recognizes that controlled substances including opioid analgesics may be essential in the treatment of acute pain due to trauma or surgery and chronic pain, whether due to cancer or noncancer origins. The commission will refer to current clinical practice guidelines and expert review in approaching cases involving management of pain. The medical management of pain should consider current clinical knowledge and scientific research and the use of pharmacologic and nonpharmacologic modalities according to the judgment of the physician. Pain should be assessed and treated promptly, and the quantity and frequency of doses should be adjusted according to the intensity, duration of the pain, and treatment outcomes. Physicians should recognize that tolerance and physical dependence are normal consequences of sustained use of opioid analgesics and are not the same as addiction.

The commission is obligated under the laws of the state of Washington to protect the public health and safety. The commission recognizes that the use of opioid analgesics for other than legitimate medical purposes poses a threat to the individual and society and that the inappropriate prescribing of controlled substances, including opioid analgesics, may lead to drug diversion and abuse by individuals who seek them for other than legitimate medical use. Accordingly, the commission expects that physicians incorporate safeguards into their practices to minimize the potential for the abuse and diversion of controlled substances.

Physicians should not fear disciplinary action from the commission for ordering, prescribing, dispensing or administering controlled substances, including opioid analgesics, for a legitimate medical purpose and in the course of professional practice. The commission will consider prescribing, ordering, dispensing or administering controlled substances for pain to be for a legitimate medical purpose if based on sound clinical judgment. All such prescribing must be based on clear documentation of unrelieved pain. To be within the usual course of professional practice, a physician-patient relationship must exist and the prescribing should be based on a diagnosis and documentation of unrelieved pain. Compliance with applicable state or federal law is required.

The commission will judge the validity of the physician’s treatment of the patient based on available documentation, rather than solely on the quantity and duration of medication administration. The goal is to control the patient’s pain while effectively addressing other aspects of the patient’s functioning, including physical, psychological, social, and work-related factors.

These rules are designed to assist practitioners in providing appropriate medical care for patients. They are not inflexible rules or rigid practice requirements and are not intended, nor should they be used, to establish a legal standard of care outside the context of the medical quality assurance committee’s jurisdiction.

The ultimate judgment regarding the propriety of any specific procedure or course of action must be made by the practitioner based on all the circumstances presented. Thus, an approach that differs from the rules, standing alone, does not necessarily imply that the approach was below the standard of care. To the contrary, a conscientious practitioner may responsibly adopt a course of action different from that set forth in the rules when, in the reasonable judgment of the practitioner, such course of action is indicated by the condition of the patient, limitations of available resources, or advances in knowledge or technology subsequent to publication of these rules. However, a practitioner who employs an approach substantially different from these rules is advised to document in the patient record information sufficient to justify the approach taken.

The practice of medicine involves not only the science, but also the art of dealing with the prevention, diagnosis, alleviation, and treatment of disease. The variety and complexity of human conditions make it impossible to always reach the most appropriate diagnosis or to predict with certainty a particular response to treatment.

Therefore, it should be recognized that adherence to these rules will not assure an accurate diagnosis or a successful outcome. The sole purpose of these rules is to assist practitioners in following a reasonable course of action based on current knowledge, available resources, and the needs of the patient to deliver effective and safe medical care.

[Statutory Authority: RCW 18.71.450, 18.71A.100, 18.71.017, and 18.71A.020. WSR 11-12-025, § 246-919-850, filed 5/24/11, effective 1/2/12.]

 

 

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