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How ProPublica’s Prescriber Checkup Helps Chronic Pain Sufferers

ProPublica is a non-profit, primarily-investigative journalism organization that’s been serving society at large since 2007.

One of the outfit’s best works comes in the form of an interactive web-based tool that lets the general public compare drug prescribing rates of drugs on an individual, physician-to-physician basis. ProPublica’s Prescriber Checkup allows you to sort for physicians by name, zip code, city of practice, or state.

You can both look at physicians’ most commonly-prescribed drugs using this tool. It also comes equipped with comparisons of doctors both within their specialty and among many other physicians across the cities or municipalities they compete in, such as relative opioid and antibiotic prescribing rates.

How Is Prescriber Checkup Fueled?

Prescribing data comes solely from people who have filled prescriptions using their Medicare Part D coverage. This means that, just because a physician prescribed one or more medications, they’re not represented on ProPublica’s insightful gadget unless they’re filled at a pharmacy and paid in part or in full by Part D coverage.

How Did Checking on Prescribers Like This Come About?

In 2013, ProPublica’s first rendition of the Prescriber Checkup tool was published. A federal law known as the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA for short, allowed the entity to get a hold of information such as physicians’ prescribing histories and share them with the American public.

Without getting into the details of FOIA, the bill provides a way for the American public to gain collective access to once-secret documents, files, or data. Prescriber Checkup is one of many successful applications of the endless heaps of useful, long-desired information that the FOIA played an instrumental role in obtaining.

Who All Is Covered by ProPublica’s Free Internet Tool?

ProPublica’s proprietary, one-of-a-kind tool is useful in the following ways:

  • Why waste time paying physicians for appointments when you’re not sure if they’ll prescribe something you feel you need?
  • Determine whether you want to visit certain physicians based on your personal experience with the things.
  • Compare how two or more physicians might tend to use medication or other treatments.
  • See where most of many individual prescription drugs are prescribed.
  • Check physicians’ receipt histories of monies from pharmaceutical companies and other lobbyists or influencers to determine how they might act.
  • Learn how likely physicians are to prescribe name-brand drugs on both an objective, general basis and on an individual, drug-by-drug basis.

Not all physicians show up on ProPublica’s Prescriber Checkup, however; only doctors and other prescribers who have both prescribed lots of drugs overall, as well as lots of particularl types of drugs.

The most important determining factor is what proportion of physicians’ patients are using Medicare Part D coverage to pay for prescriptions. If not enough people do this, physicians won’t have any data available about them regarding their prescribing habits.

ProPublica’s tool requires each and every physician to write 50 or more prescriptions for one or more drugs — not 50 prescriptions in total, but at least one category of medicine on a physician’s profile would tally 50 or greater prescriptions.

In 2015, says the organization, just under 450,000 American physicians, nurse practitioners, physicians’ assistants, and other prescribers were in active practice.

Also, patients are safe and are not mentioned anywhere else on this proprietary tech tool. There’s no reason for journalists to have an interest in the names of patients and what medicines they’ve been prescribed; this tool isn’t for physicians, it’s for the American public.

Here Are a Few Real-World Ways That People Might Use Prescriber Checkup

Everybody will use Prescriber Checkup differently. Since there’s no guide out there about the various ways to pull utility from ProPublica’s Internet-based tool, not everyone will use this application and its contents for good.

To Increase Their Chances of Receiving Prescriptions That They Purposefully Seek Out

Physicians across the 50 states now prescribe opioids far less openly than they used to.

Since there are fewer opioid prescriptions being given out today, people will have to set up appointments with more doctors than they would before in order to successfully receive the prescriptions they’ve got an eye on.

Assume that you have been prescribed a drug for 10 years. Your now-former long-term primary care provider passed away and now you struggle to find another prescriber to give you access to that drug again.

There’s a reason that we go to doctors — they understand how to apply the best treatments in nearly every situation. People who suffer from substance use disorder often self-medicate with common recreational drugs such as cannabis, opioids, or benzodiazepines, for example.

Self-medication comes hand-in-hand with being at high risk for various major side effects such as worsening people’s existing mental health issues. This is just a rule of thumb, however, and doesn’t always end up like this.

Modern Medicine Says Some Drugs Are Inherently Riskier – That’s Why These Categories Stick Out

Antibiotics have countless applications in dealing with infections caused by bacteria, which are present on and in our bodies to the tune of countless trillions. However, when misprescribed, they can negatively affect the cultures of good bacteria in our bodies. We also cause existing bacteria to build up stronger antibiotic resistance to modern antibiotics commonly prescribed both here in the United States and all over the world.

Antipsychotics are another type of risky drug that the nationwide class of American physicians has been known to prescribe in inappropriate conditions fairly regularly. In most cases of antipsychotic misuse, older people in nursing homes are prescribed them with the simple goal of sedating them, ostensively for nursing homes to make dealing with patients systemically easier. Their use can also result in serious harm and even death.

Opioids are the third special class of drugs on our list. They have great utility as painkillers, especially to improve otherwise-lagging quality of life in people’s older years and in people who suffer from serious bouts of chronic pain. People who are interested in purposefully seeking out an opioid prescription from a doctor can serve themselves well by looking at all prescribers in the area(s) you’re thinking about setting up an appointment in. With this tool, you can save money and time in your efforts to receive opioids from one or more prescribers,

On ProPublica’s Prescriber Checkup, there are three other important areas of prescribing that are found on the same row as antipsychotics, antibiotics, and opioids, which are the average rate at which doctors prescribe brand-name drugs, the average price of their prescriptions at pharmacies, and prescriptions per patient.

Don’t just stop here in learning about the ups and downs of these classes of drugs and finding out the utility of the other three metrics mentioned above — look across the World Wide Web, far and wide, to better understand how to take advantage of these things.

It’s Useful in Reducing How Much Average Physician Appointments Cost

We all want to go to a doctor that will take care of us correctly the first time around. However, many people throughout Northwest Tennessee simply don’t have enough money to go visit with multiple physicians.

Given that you use this tool correctly, you can effectively shave down the costs necessary to be seen by a physician and otherwise fill their prescription(s).

A Reason to Support Prescriber Checkup

Many people are curious about what goes on behind all sorts of closed doors. While some topics deserve to be kept private, others could benefit society at large. For example, the American public generally believes that they should be served by transparent societal systems and government agencies, preventing stuff like gross financial conflicts in medicine.

We deserve to know which physicians in the areas we live are more responsible than others for prescribing drugs too widely or not often enough. Also, for example, the U.S. federal government has made a handful of proclamations over the past few years that have ultimately resulted in the systematic change of opioid prescribing practices. Since physicians should be prescribing fewer opioid prescriptions today than they did, say, 10 years ago, the public stands to benefit from having access to Prescriber Checkup’s simple comparison tools.

Whether You Use It or Not, at Least You Know About It Now

I don’t expect everyone to have a use for ProPublica’s Prescriber Checkup tool. However, everyone should at least be exposed to information such as its uses, where to find it, and ways you can benefit from it.

Good thing you know at least a little more than you used to — I hope that’s the case, at least!

By Daniel Garrett

I'm a self-employed writer, long-term drug user, and resident of rural Tennessee. Find me on Twitter at @DanielGarrettHR or email me at danpgarr@ut.utm.edu.

2 replies on “How ProPublica’s Prescriber Checkup Helps Chronic Pain Sufferers”

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