By Nancy Grover, Founder and President of NMG Consulting
The use of urine drug testing (UDT) for injured workers raises challenges and questions for workers’ compensation stakeholders. Who should be tested? How many tests are too many/too few? How often should the tests be performed? And, perhaps most importantly, what — if any — action should be taken in response to test results?
These questions have been brought to the forefront with the rise of opioid-related challenges — the same challenges that led a large workers’ compensation insurer to turn to experts for help.
The carrier saw a significant increase in opioid use among injured workers. Claims adjusters did not have the expertise on their own to aid in the problem.
Over the past several years, the insurer has aligned with Optum, its pharmacy benefit manager, and Millennium Health, a health solutions company that specializes in medication monitoring, to create a program that identifies and works with injured workers who are potentially at risk for poor recoveries. The insurer has reported impressive results, with reductions on spending for opioid analgesics and decreases in the number of supply days of the medications. Using the clinical experts and toxicologists of Millennium to help interpret test results has helped the clinical pharmacists at Optum provide recommendations to the adjusters and providers.
Medical treatment guidelines increasingly include UDTs for injured workers prescribed opioids; however, many of them leave the decision of how often to test largely to the medical provider’s discretion. Experts say UDT, used in conjunction with other tools, can provide objective information regarding current medication as well as illicit substance use. The results can help identify injured workers who may be abusing, misusing and/or diverting prescribed opioids.
“The clinical utility of UDT has been well established and is promoted in several medical guidelines; however, in some segments, there is still an underutilization for various reasons,” said Maria Chianta, director for Clinical Affairs and Managed Markets, Millennium Health. “It could be a lack of awareness, or a lack of time — it takes time to perform the tests and interpret them.”
Chianta will lead a discussion at the National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference® & Expo today in New Orleans. The discussion will cover the use of UDT in workers’ compensation, explain what led the insurer to enlist the help of its pharmacy benefit manager and Millennium Health, and the results the company has achieved.
Non-adherence to guidelines
The latest research from the Workers’ Compensation Research Institute bears out the inconsistent use of UDTs in workers’ compensation. A study of 25 states showed the percentage of injured workers with longer term use of opioids receiving drug testing was lower than recommended by treatment guidelines. At the same time, however, the frequency of drug tests was unusually high among the top 5 percent of injured workers who received opioids on a longer term basis and had drug testing.
A lack of understanding of what actions to take based on UDT results is perhaps one of the major barriers. “It takes time to walk through those results. If you get something unexpected, you have to try to get to the cause of that, which takes time,” Chianta said. “Some providers may not know the best ways to respond to the test results.”
Follow-up is among the key issues for effective use of UDT. Depending on the results of the tests, the insurer, for example, may engage the services of a telephonic case manager or conduct a pain management program review.
Another area of confusion over UDTs concerns the types of tests available. “Primarily, there is immunoassay technology and mass spectrometry,” Chianta said. “Immunoassay is a presumptive screening and mass spectrometry is a definitive or confirmation test.”
Chianta will discuss the types of tests in more detail. Some people on the health plan side may be seeing drug tests coming in and paying for it and that’s the end of the process. The speakers aim to give session attendees an appreciation of the value of becoming more involved with the outcomes of the tests and follow-up actions that are necessary.