DECISION AND ORDER
This case is decided pursuant to Chapter 410 of the Texas Workers’ Compensation Act and Rules of the Division of Workers’ Compensation adopted thereunder.
A contested case hearing was held on September 24, 2009, to decide the following disputed issue:
- Is the preponderance of the evidence contrary to the decision of the Independent Review Organization (IRO) that the Claimant is not entitled to pain management 5 times per week for 2 weeks (80 hours) for the compensable injury of ____________?
Petitioner/Claimant (Hereinafter Claimant.) appeared and was assisted by RB, ombudsman. Petitioner/Subclaimant (Hereinafter Subclaimant.) appeared and was represented by Dr. W, Ed.D.. Respondent/Carrier (Hereinafter Carrier.) appeared and was represented by DP, attorney.
The Claimant sustained a compensable injury on ____________ when a heavy safety deposit box fell on her back. The Claimant has undergone conservative treatment including physical therapy, medication management, and interventional pain management injections with suboptimal relief. The Claimant is not a surgical candidate. The Claimant was in a work hardening program that was discontinued after two weeks because of its lack of efficacy.
The IRO reviewer, a Texas State Licensed M.D., Board Certified in Anesthesiology and Pain Management, upheld the prior non-certifications for pain management 5 times per week for 2 weeks (80 hours). Noting a reliance on the Official Disability Guidelines (ODG) and ACOEM the reviewer stated, inter alia, there was no clear current objective evidence or residual/weak current pathology identified in the submitted diagnostic testing and no valid objective reason for the Claimant's ongoing pain complaints. The reviewer continued stating, "(t)here are no controlled studies, extant evidence, base standards, or randomized clinical trials supporting the use of unimodal psychotherapeutic techniques in producing reliable functional improvements with this type of chronic benign pain syndrome." (Emphasis added.)
Texas Labor Code Section 408.021 provides that an employee who sustains a compensable injury is entitled to all health care reasonably required by the nature of the injury as and when needed. Health care reasonably required is further defined in Texas Labor Code Section 401.011 (22a) as health care that is clinically appropriate and considered effective for the injured employee's injury and provided in accordance with best practices consistent with evidence based medicine or, if evidence based medicine is not available, then generally accepted standards of medical practice recognized in the medical community. Health care under the Texas Workers' Compensation system must be consistent with evidence based medicine if that evidence is available. Evidence based medicine is further defined in Texas Labor Code Section 401.011 (18a) to be the use of the current best quality scientific and medical evidence formulated from credible scientific studies, including peer-reviewed medical literature and other current scientifically based texts and treatment and practice guidelines.
In accordance with the above statutory guidance, the Division of Workers' Compensation has adopted treatment guidelines by Division Rule 137.100. This rule directs health care providers to provide treatment in accordance with the current edition of the Official Disability Guidelines (ODG), and such treatment is presumed to be health care reasonably required as defined in the Texas Labor Code. Thus, the focus of any health care dispute starts with the health care set out in the ODG. Also, in accordance with Division Rule 133.308 (t), "A decision issued by an IRO is not considered an agency decision and neither the Department nor the Division are considered parties to an appeal. In a Contested Case Hearing (CCH), the party appealing the IRO decision has the burden of overcoming the decision issued by an IRO by a preponderance of evidence-based medical evidence."
On the date of this medical contested case hearing, the ODG provides the following with regard to pain management:
Recommended where there is access to programs with proven successful outcomes (i.e., decreased pain and medication use, improved function and return to work, decreased utilization of the health care system), for patients with conditions that have resulted in “Delayed recovery.” There should be evidence that a complete diagnostic assessment has been made, with a detailed treatment plan of how to address physiologic, psychological and sociologic components that are considered components of the patient’s pain. Patients should show evidence of motivation to improve and return to work, and meet the patient selection criteria outlined below. While these programs are recommended (see criteria below), the research remains ongoing as to (1) what is considered the “gold-standard” content for treatment; (2) the group of patients that benefit most from this treatment; (3) the ideal timing of when to initiate treatment; (4) the intensity necessary for effective treatment; and (5) cost-effectiveness. It has been suggested that interdisciplinary/multidisciplinary care models for treatment of chronic pain may be the most effective way to treat this condition. (Flor, 1992) (Gallagher, 1999) (Guzman, 2001) (Gross, 2005) (Sullivan, 2005) (Dysvik, 2005) (Airaksinen, 2006) (Schonstein, 2003) (Sanders, 2005) (Patrick, 2004) (Buchner, 2006) These treatment modalities are based on the biopsychosocial model, one that views pain and disability in terms of the interaction between physiological, psychological and social factors. (Gatchel, 2005) See Biopsychosocial model of chronic pain.
Types of programs: There is no one universal definition of what comprises interdisciplinary/multidisciplinary treatment. These pain rehabilitation programs (as described below) combine multiple treatments, and at the least, include psychological care along with physical and/or occupational therapy (including an active exercise component as opposed to passive modalities). The most commonly referenced programs have been defined in the following general ways (Stanos, 2006):
(1) Multidisciplinary programs: Involves one or two specialists directing the services of a number of team members, with these specialists often having independent goals. These programs can be further subdivided into four levels of pain programs:
(a) Multidisciplinary pain centers (generally associated with academic centers and include research as part of their focus)
(b) Multidisciplinary pain clinics
(c) Pain clinics
(d) Modality-oriented clinics
(2) Interdisciplinary pain programs: Involves a team approach that is outcome focused and coordinated and offers goal-oriented interdisciplinary services. Communication on a minimum of a weekly basis is emphasized. The most intensive of these programs is referred to as a Functional Restoration Program, with a major emphasis on maximizing function versus minimizing pain. See Functional restoration programs.
Types of treatment:Components suggested for interdisciplinary care include the following services delivered in an integrated fashion: (a) physical treatment; (b) medical care and supervision; (c) psychological and behavioral care; (d) psychosocial care; (e) vocational rehabilitation and training; and (f) education.
Outcomes measured: Studies have generally evaluated variables such as pain relief, function and return to work. More recent research has begun to investigate the role of comorbid psychiatric and substance abuse problems in relation to treatment with pain programs. Recent literature has begun to suggest that an outcome of chronic pain programs may be to “demedicalize” treatment of a patient, and encourage them to take a more active role in their recovery. These studies use outcomes such as use of the medical care system post-treatment. The role of the increasing use of opioids and other medications (using data collected over the past decade) on outcomes of functional restoration is in the early stages, and it is not clear how changes in medication management have affected outcomes, if at all. (See Opioids for chronic pain.)
Criteria for the general use of multidisciplinary pain management programs:
Outpatient pain rehabilitation programs may be considered medically necessary in the following circumstances:
(1) The patient has a chronic pain syndrome, with evidence of loss of function that persists beyond three months and has evidence of three or more of the following: (a) Excessive dependence on health-care providers, spouse, or family; (b) Secondary physical deconditioning due to disuse and/or fear-avoidance of physical activity due to pain; (c) Withdrawal from social activities or normal contact with others, including work, recreation, or other social contacts; (d) Failure to restore preinjury function after a period of disability such that the physical capacity is insufficient to pursue work, family, or recreational needs; (e) Development of psychosocial sequelae that limits function or recovery after the initial incident, including anxiety, fear-avoidance, depression, sleep disorders, or nonorganic illness behaviors (with a reasonable probability to respond to treatment intervention); (f) The diagnosis is not primarily a personality disorder or psychological condition without a physical component; (g) There is evidence of continued use of prescription pain medications (particularly those that may result in tolerance, dependence or abuse) without evidence of improvement in pain or function.
(2) Previous methods of treating chronic pain have been unsuccessful and there is an absence of other options likely to result in significant clinical improvement.
(3) An adequate and thorough multidisciplinary evaluation has been made. This should include pertinent validated diagnostic testing that addresses the following: (a) A physical exam that rules out conditions that require treatment prior to initiating the program. All diagnostic procedures necessary to rule out treatable pathology, including imaging studies and invasive injections (used for diagnosis), should be completed prior to considering a patient a candidate for a program. The exception is diagnostic procedures that were repeatedly requested and not authorized. Although the primary emphasis is on the work-related injury, underlying non-work related pathology that contributes to pain and decreased function may need to be addressed and treated by a primary care physician prior to or coincident to starting treatment; (b) Evidence of a screening evaluation should be provided when addiction is present or strongly suspected; (c) Psychological testing using a validated instrument to identify pertinent areas that need to be addressed in the program (including but not limited to mood disorder, sleep disorder, relationship dysfunction, distorted beliefs about pain and disability, coping skills and/or locus of control regarding pain and medical care) or diagnoses that would better be addressed using other treatment should be performed; (d) An evaluation of social and vocational issues that require assessment.
(4) If a goal of treatment is to prevent or avoid controversial or optional surgery, a trial of 10 visits (80 hours) may be implemented to assess whether surgery may be avoided.
(5) If a primary reason for treatment in the program is addressing possible substance use issues, an evaluation with an addiction clinician may be indicated upon entering the program to establish the most appropriate treatment approach (pain program vs. substance dependence program). This must address evaluation of drug abuse or diversion (and prescribing drugs in a non-therapeutic manner). In this particular case, once drug abuse or diversion issues are addressed, a 10-day trial may help to establish a diagnosis, and determine if the patient is not better suited for treatment in a substance dependence program. Addiction consultation can be incorporated into a pain program. If there is indication that substance dependence may be a problem, there should be evidence that the program has the capability to address this type of pathology prior to approval.
(6) Once the evaluation is completed, a treatment plan should be presented with specifics for treatment of identified problems, and outcomes that will be followed.
(7) There should be documentation that the patient has motivation to change, and is willing to change their medication regimen (including decreasing or actually weaning substances known for dependence). There should also be some documentation that the patient is aware that successful treatment may change compensation and/or other secondary gains. In questionable cases, an opportunity for a brief treatment trial may improve assessment of patient motivation and/or willingness to decrease habituating medications.
(8) Negative predictors of success (as outlined above) should be identified, and if present, the pre-program goals should indicate how these will be addressed.
(9) If a program is planned for a patient that has been continuously disabled for greater than 24 months, the outcomes for the necessity of use should be clearly identified, as there is conflicting evidence that chronic pain programs provide return-to-work beyond this period. These other desirable types of outcomes include decreasing post-treatment care including medications, injections and surgery.
(10) Treatment is not suggested for longer than 2 weeks without evidence of compliance and significant demonstrated efficacy as documented by subjective and objective gains. (Note: Patients may get worse before they get better. For example, objective gains may be moving joints that are stiff from lack of use, resulting in increased subjective pain.) However, it is also not suggested that a continuous course of treatment be interrupted at two weeks solely to document these gains, if there are preliminary indications that they are being made on a concurrent basis.
(11) Integrative summary reports that include treatment goals, compliance, progress assessment with objective measures and stage of treatment, must be made available upon request at least on a bi-weekly basis during the course of the treatment program.
(12) Total treatment duration should generally not exceed 20 full-day (160 hours) sessions (or the equivalent in part-day sessions if required by part-time work, transportation, childcare, or comorbidities). (Sanders, 2005) Treatment duration in excess of 160 hours requires a clear rationale for the specified extension and reasonable goals to be achieved. Longer durations require individualized care plans explaining why improvements cannot be achieved without an extension as well as evidence of documented improved outcomes from the facility (particularly in terms of the specific outcomes that are to be addressed).
(13) At the conclusion and subsequently, neither re-enrollment in repetition of the same or similar rehabilitation program (e.g. work hardening, work conditioning, out-patient medical rehabilitation) is medically warranted for the same condition or injury (with possible exception for a medically necessary organized detox program). Prior to entry into a program the evaluation should clearly indicate the necessity for the type of program required, and providers should determine upfront which program their patients would benefit more from. A chronic pain program should not be considered a “stepping stone” after less intensive programs, but prior participation in a work conditioning or work hardening program does not preclude an opportunity for entering a chronic pain program if otherwise indicated.
(14) Suggestions for treatment post-program should be well documented and provided to the referral physician. The patient may require time-limited, less intensive post-treatment with the program itself. Defined goals for these interventions and planned duration should be specified.
(15) Post-treatment medication management is particularly important. Patients that have been identified as having substance abuse issues generally require some sort of continued addiction follow-up to avoid relapse.
Inpatient pain rehabilitation programs: These programs typically consist of more intensive functional rehabilitation and medical care than their outpatient counterparts. They may be appropriate for patients who: (1) don’t have the minimal functional capacity to participate effectively in an outpatient program; (2) have medical conditions that require more intensive oversight; (3) are receiving large amounts of medications necessitating medication weaning or detoxification; or (4) have complex medical or psychological diagnosis that benefit from more intensive observation and/or additional consultation during the rehabilitation process. (Keel, 1998) (Kool, 2005) (Buchner, 2006) (Kool, 2007) As with outpatient pain rehabilitation programs, the most effective programs combine intensive, daily biopsychosocial rehabilitation with a functional restoration approach. If a primary focus is drug treatment, the initial evaluation should attempt to identify the most appropriate treatment plan (a drug treatment /detoxification approach vs. a multidisciplinary/interdisciplinary treatment program). See Chronic pain programs, opioids;
When weighing medical evidence, the hearing officer must first determine whether the doctor giving the expert opinion is qualified to offer it, but also, the hearing officer must determine whether the opinion is relevant to the issues in the case and whether the opinion is based upon a reliable foundation. An expert’s bald assurance of validity is not enough. See Black v. Food Lion, Inc., 171 F.3rd 308 (5th Cir. 1999); E.I. Du Pont De Nemours and Company, Inc. v. Robinson, 923 S.W.2d 549 (Tex. 1995). When determining reliability, the hearing officer must consider the evidence in terms of (1) general acceptance of the theory and technique by the relevant scientific community; (2) the expert’s qualifications; (3) the existence of literature supporting or rejecting the theory; (4) the technique’s potential rate of error; (5) the availability of other experts to test and evaluate the technique; (6) the clarity with which the theory or technique can be explained to the trial court; and (7) the experience and skill of the person who applied the technique on the occasion in question. Kelly v. State, 792 S.W.2d 579 (Tex. App.-Fort Worth 1990) affd, 824 S.W.2d 568, 574 (Tex. Crim. App. 1992).
The Claimant testified that she continues to experience pain in her low back but is not a surgical candidate. Despite her home exercise program, the Claimant stated she is unable to return to work because she is still struggling with basic home duties.
Dr. W, Ph.D., testified for the Claimant, stated he is a licensed psychologist in the state of Texas and had been Subclaimant's Clinical Director for 17 years. Noting the June 17, 2009 behavioral health, medical, and physical assessments of the Claimant resulted in a diagnosis of chronic pain syndrome, Dr. W addressed both of the non-certifications and pointed out errors in those determinations according to the ODG. Dr. W then addressed the IRO decision, referred to the ODG to point out several discrepancies between the actual records sent to the reviewer and the records the reviewer stated he used. Dr. W stated the program offer to the Claimant was a multidisciplinary program and the reviewer was wrong in referring to it as "unimodal psychotherapeutic techniques," which caused Dr. W to question if the reviewer had in fact used the ODG. Next, Dr. W then used several sections of the ACOEM to substantiate his facts. Finally, Dr. W covered the criteria for admission to a multidisciplinary pain management program, going over criteria one through nine and giving the Claimant's conditions that meet each criteria. Along with the applicable sections of the ACOEM, the Subclaimant also provided four evidence based articles (and 13 article summaries) showing the efficacy of multidisciplinary pain management programs.
The Subclaimant did present evidence based medical evidence, in the from of both a competent source and competent articles to overcome the IRO’s decision regarding the requested pain management 5 times per week for 2 weeks (80 hours). Therefore, Subclaimant has met the requisite evidentiary standard required to overcome the IRO decision and the preponderance of the evidence is contrary to the IRO decision that the Claimant is not entitled to pain management 5 times per week for 2 weeks (80 hours).
Even though all the evidence presented was not discussed, it was considered. The Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law are based on all of the evidence presented.
FINDINGS OF FACT
- The parties stipulated to the following facts:
A.Venue is proper in the (City) Field Office of the Texas Department of Insurance, Division of Workers’ Compensation.
B.On ____________, Claimant was the employee of (Employer).
C.The IRO determined that the requested services were not reasonable and necessary health care for the compensable injury of ____________.
CONCLUSIONS OF LAW
- The Texas Department of Insurance, Division of Workers’ Compensation, has jurisdiction to hear this case.
- Venue is proper in the (City) Field Office.
- The preponderance of the evidence is contrary to the decision of the IRO that pain management 5 times per week for 2 weeks (80 hours) is health care reasonably required for the compensable injury of ____________.
The Claimant is entitled to pain management 5 times per week for 2 weeks (80 hours) for the compensable injury of ____________.
Carrier is ordered to pay benefits in accordance with this decision, the Texas Workers’ Compensation Act, and the Commissioner’s Rules. Accrued but unpaid income benefits, if any, shall be paid in a lump sum together with interest as provided by law.
The true corporate name of the insurance carrier is INDEMNITY INSURANCE COMPANY OF NORTH AMERICA and the name and address of its registered agent for service of process is
ROBIN M. MOUNTAIN
6600 CAMPUS CIRCLE DRIVE EAST, SUITE 300
IRVING, TEXAS 75063-2732
Signed this 24th day of September, 2009.
David Paul Weston