Tuesday, November 18, 2008


This year I have been moonlighting at one of the community ED's nearby. It's a different type of patient mix-- most of the patients are insured, and maybe it's all in my head, but they seem to be more polite, and actually follow-up with their private physicians. I typically work a shift or two a month for extra money. I don't want to miss any time that I could be spending with AG before he deploys, and to be honest, I really don't want to give up too many of my days off.


Anyway, the other night, working at two different hospitals came in handy. I was working with my friend, M, and I grabbed the next chart and walked into the room. It was a young woman who was complaining of bilateral knee pain, and told the nurse that she hadn't been able to walk for the past 3 days. When I walked in, I was surprised to recognize the girlfriend of one of my patient's that I had seen the night before in my base hospital. I remembered her because he was there for a big, long rule-out appendicitis workup and she proceeded to hound the nursing staff constantly and paced back and forth across the department making phone calls (and demanding we feed said boyfriend immediately, despite his reported pain and vomiting, once it turned out that he didn't have appendicitis).

So, I called her on it, and she said she hid the difficulty walking the night before because she was concerned about her boyfriend. Fine. I asked her how she got to the hospital that night because when thinking about pain meds, you typically don't want to give a bunch of narcotics to someone who is about to drive home. That's when she said that she walked to the hospital. ???

Hmm, so I now I have someone who wants narcotics (allergic to ibuprofen, and acetaminophen "doesn't work") for an injury that doesn't make any sense. So, I gave her a shot of an anti-inflammatory that she'd never heard of, and sent her on her way. Reportedly, she'd had months of intermittent pains, no trauma/fall, and a normal physical exam, which to me means no need to waste any time with x-rays/imaging.

Just before she walked out to the waiting room, I ask her how the boyfriend's doing, and she says, "His belly doesn't hurt no more, now it's his teeth."


I sit down next to M, and see what he's up to. Wouldn't you know it, he's right in the middle of writing a prescription for narcotics for a young male with dental pain! I tell him the story, and mention how the guy just got discharged from our ED with narcotics the night before.

So, we both walk back to the guy's room, and I just stand there silently while M grills him for not telling him about the prescription he'd just gotten the night before. He doesn't deny anything, and just sheepishly says that he never filled the first one, but that he still has it at home. M tells him to go fill the first script because we're not giving him anything tonight, and out the door he slinks.


I am sure that this happens all the time, but as I typically work just in one location, I don't see it that much. With electronic tracking, we now can easily look up just how many times someone's been in our department and what they've been given, so it's easy to tell if they have prematurely run out of their pain meds. However, there's no way to link between hospitals, so we can't really tell just how much someone's trying to abuse the system. This couple will probably still continue their quests for meds, but hopefully it will be to hospitals 3, 4, and 5 instead of the two I'm at.


Chris said...

Ok, I hate to say it, but a national system would help eliminate a lot of that abuse. But at what cost?

Kate said...

If people are going to be able to access their own health records online through services like Google, providers should be able to look up a pharmacy database to make sure that you weren't writing anything that would conflict with current medications or just being a supplier for a prescription med dealer.

Right now we rely on patients to report their current meds, but a lot of them don't know what they're taking, or triage nurses will sometimes make mistakes transcribing them. A lot of potential errors could be avoided, but there would be some loss of privacy.

ru said...

Medicine could definitely use a bit more available records between hospitals. I remember my dad's experience with medicine--you don't always know the names of what you're taking or remember which name goes to the one that gave you really bad side effects. And those are just the innocent people.

When you have people abusing the system and ER-hopping, that adds huge liability. Glad you caught that one. Maybe they were drugged out enough to infuse you with a sort of omniscience that will keep them from scamming anymore ER's.