Healthcare // Policy & Regulation
Commentary
4/22/2014
09:40 AM
Alison Diana
Alison Diana
Commentary
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Doctors Doping: What Can Tech Do?

It's estimated 100,000 healthcare professionals abuse prescription drugs, endangering patients and hospitals. Video, bar coding, and even robots could bring the number down.

errors dropped 31%after the barcoding implementation, the US National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health reported.

Need an immediate reduction? Add cameras. The National Community Pharmacists Association's Protect Your Pharmacy Now! program was designed to help independent chemists safeguard themselves from internal and external threats. In addition to standard retail anti-theft aids such as height stickers, the solution includes discounts on employee background screening, narcotics safes, surveillance systems, and cameras, the group said.

Video surveillance systems are a growing component of healthcare organizations' anti-theft operations. Skyway Security, for example, created a remote surveillance system specifically designed for pharmacies. Likewise, VideoSurveillance.com targets both drugstores and hospitals with its family of IP-based systems.

Often, hospitals integrate pharmacy surveillance with existing systems already protecting public areas such as parking lots and elevators. However, hospitals must keep privacy, tampering, and over-reliance in mind when installing video surveillance as part of a drug-prevention effort, cautioned VideoSurveillance.com. Cameras alone are seldom the answer to drug diversion.

Security technologies -- video surveillance, inventory management, and IoT -- won't guarantee complete protection, but will safeguard medication against some abuse, be it from an addict or an opportunist. Many states don't force healthcare facilities to alert law enforcement if they find employees using or diverting medication, and disciplinary action by a healthcare organization is rare, reported USA Today.

As a result, patients' lives could be in jeopardy. About 8 million people work in healthcare, therefore drug-abusing medical professionals represent only 1.25% of employees. This small group can, however, wreak a lot of havoc and pain, irreparably damaging patients and, perhaps, reputations.

Investing in technologies that curtail abuse of prescriptions protects patients, employees, and reputations, and improves productivity. It's time for healthcare to write itself a prescription for pharmacy management systems and new drug delivery technologies.

Download Healthcare IT in the Obamacare Era, the InformationWeek Healthcare digital issue on the impact of new laws and regulations. Modern technology created the opportunity to restructure the healthcare industry around accountable care organizations, but IT priorities are also being driven by the shift.

Alison Diana has written about technology and business for more than 20 years. She was editor, contributors, at Internet Evolution; editor-in-chief of 21st Century IT; and managing editor, sections, at CRN. She has also written for eWeek, Baseline Magazine, Redmond Channel ... View Full Bio

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Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
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4/23/2014 | 2:35:17 PM
Re: Addictive pills: Protect 'em like data
It also makes sense from a patient security perspective, too. If hospitals carefully monitor and track prescription medications, it's less likely a patient will miss a dose or get a double dose of something, addictive or not. So there is a patient safety aspect and a cost-savings, too. Even though some medications are pretty safe, have no street value, and are unlikely to disappear for any illicit reasons, they can be misplaced and that means hospitals would need to unnecessarily replace them. That can add up. 
Shane M. O'Neill
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Shane M. O'Neill,
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4/22/2014 | 5:53:45 PM
Addictive pills: Protect 'em like data
Who would have thought it would take this much technology to prevent people from pocketing pills? But this speaks to how painkillers like oxycontin and others have become highly sought-after street drugs. They're addictive and lucrative enough to warrant the video surveillance, bar-coding and robotics designed to safeguard them from thieves inside and outside hospital walls. The fact that they make inventory and distribution of meds more efficient is a bonus.
ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
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4/22/2014 | 4:27:18 PM
Re: High percentage
Dunkin Donuts used a variation of the video surveillance approach to cut theft -- it linked video surveillance to cash registers, so a manager could see certain transactions (like voids and deletes) to see if employees were giving product away. That was several years ago (link below). Given the much higher stakes with high-priced and addictive drugs, it seems like some systems would make economic and safety sense. 

http://www.informationweek.com/it-leadership/20-innovative-it-ideas-to-steal/d/d-id/1100026?page_number=17
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
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4/22/2014 | 12:59:48 PM
Re: High percentage
Yes, @Lorna, but healthcare providers' security investments are also protecting drugs from external threats -- not just the very small percentage of healthcare professionals-turned-addicts (or those who steal for an extra buck). Not sure about a one strike and you're out rule although I was surprised that healthcare providers aren't forced to self-report professionals who abuse medication. I'd have hoped there was some notation on their record; after all, an employer should be aware that someone who is allowed to prescribe controlled substances has had a problem with these medications in the past, just so they can keep an extra eye on him/her or choose not to hire them. 
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
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4/22/2014 | 11:35:14 AM
High percentage
It's surprising to me that about 90% of those caught abusing are allowed to return to practice. Maybe if it were a "one strike and you're out of your high-paying job" situation, we wouldn't need to spend as much money and development effort on a high-tech arms race to stop abuse. It's not as if those resources aren't needed elsewhere.

 
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Research: Healthcare IT Priorities
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