Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Why Requirement That All Smokers Be Prescribed Medication is Inappropriate: It Violates Basic Medical Principles for Benefit of Pharmaceutical Profits

Yesterday, I revealed that the Joint Commission's new tobacco treatment accreditation standard was created by a panel whose chair is financially conflicted by virtue of current and multiple past financial relationships with pharmaceutical companies that market or are developing smoking cessation drugs. As I noted, the standard requires hospitals to offer smoking cessation drugs to every smoking patient upon discharge.

The purpose of yesterday's post was not necessarily to criticize the requirement itself, but to criticize the fact that the standard was set by a severely conflicted panel: one whose chair has and has had financial conflicts of interest with Big Pharma.

Today, I explain why this requirement is inappropriate.

The Rest of the Story

Quite simply, the requirement is inappropriate because it requires hospitals to offer smoking cessation medication to every smoking patient, even if in the judgment of the treating physician, prescribing a smoking cessation drug is not the most appropriate and effective treatment for his or her patient.

There are many available treatments for smoking dependence and the most effective treatment plan should be individualized. As with most other aspects of medicine, there is no room for a one-size-fits-all, strictly prescribed treatment plan for every patient, regardless of individual circumstances.

Take the example of type II diabetes. One would not set a standard that requires every patient diagnosed with type II diabetes to be treated with an FDA-approved diabetes medication. In fact, 90% of cases of type II diabetes can be adequately treated with exercise and diet alone. To require every hospital to prescribe a diabetes medication to every type II diabetes patient upon discharge would be inappropriate. The appropriate treatment depends on the individual circumstances.

However, the Joint Commission panel's requirement ignores individual circumstances and undermines the judgment of the treating physician in favor of setting a one-size-fits-all mandate that every smoker be prescribed an FDA-approved smoking cessation drug. In many cases, this will not be the most appropriate choice of treatment. Yet hospitals may risk losing accreditation if they fail to follow the standard.

For example, consider a patient with the following history:

Patient X is admitted and treated for a kidney stone. She has a 25 year history of smoking. She has tried nicotine replacement therapy on six different occasions and failed to quit smoking on any of those occasions. She tried Chantix once but discontinued the drug because of severe side effects. Two years ago, she tried hypnotherapy which was very successful. She kept off cigarettes for nearly two years. However, she resumed smoking one month prior to admission due to the stress related to the loss of her job. She is now employed at a new position which she loves, but she hasn't tried to quit smoking since she resumed working.

In this case, the treating physician might legitimately and appropriately believe that the best treatment for the patient would be to try hypnotherapy again. She tried NRT six times and failed so prescribing NRT does not seem likely to be effective. Prescribing Chantix is probably not appropriate given the severe side effects the patient experienced. However, the patient has already been quite successful with hypnotherapy and her sustained period of cessation was interrupted only because of severe stress, which has now been relieved. It seems that a second trial of hypnotherapy might be the most effective and appropriate approach. At very least, it would be reasonable for a physician to so opine.

The Joint Commission panel's standard, however, would find this physician and this hospital in non-compliance. The patient must be offered an FDA-approved smoking cessation drug. Hypnosis doesn't cut it. Acupuncture doesn't cut it. Electronic cigarettes do not cut it. Even if the patient has previously had success with one of these approaches and no success with FDA-approved cessation drugs.

In many ways, this violates a basic principle of medicine: that each patient should be treated in that patient's best interests, without regard to the financial profits of corporations. In this case, the decision is being made not based on what is best for the patient, but what is best for the pharmaceutical companies.

That such a requirement was developed by a panel whose chair has a history of financial conflicts of interest with Big Pharma makes it completely unacceptable.

No comments: