November 3, 2010 - A Virginia Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital was recently charged with overprescribing certain drugs to veterans. Although very close to being considered malpractice, the hospital was found to have not done anything wrong. The investigation stemmed from allegations that VA doctors were being forced to over-prescribe very potent narcotics to veteran-patients.
Despite being cleared of the allegations, apparently there are still lingering issues. The investigation into the Virginia VA hospital began with Dr. Pamela Gray being fired for "poor interpersonal communication skills" right before her probationary period was scheduled to end. According to Dr. Gray, however, she was fired because she refused to write uncalled for prescriptions for narcotics.
Dr. Gray also alleged the hospital altered patient records to cover up the over-prescribing. Investigators did not find any evidence to substantiate this allegation. According to Gray, if you aren't one of the doctors over-prescribing, you will be fired.
Of the 15 doctors interviewed as part of the investigation, most do not feel any coercion to excessively prescribe narcotics where they are not necessary. A small minority of 4 doctors, however, acknowledged they did feel forced to write unnecessary narcotics prescriptions. That the majority did not feel that pressure to write those prescriptions was apparently enough to close the investigation and clear the hospital of having done anything wrong.
The final report made no clear finding as to where the pressure to over-prescribe originated. It could have been the hospital pressuring the doctors, or it could come from the patients themselves, who were refused pain medication. The investigation itself found nothing indicating hospital administrators pressured doctors to write improper prescriptions for narcotics.
From December 2008 to March 2010, 16 doctors left employment at the Virginia VA hospital. Three of those 16 put their voiced their uneasiness with how patients suffering from chronic pain are over prescribed narcotics.
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