HCN News & Notes

New MMS Policies Include Support of Jail Diversion in Drug-use Cases

WALTHAM — Reflecting the value of treatment over incarceration and recognizing the increase in the number of drug courts and jail-diversion programs in combating the state’s opioid epidemic, physicians of the Mass. Medical Society (MMS) adopted a policy supporting jail diversion for individuals with substance-use disorder at its annual meeting in Boston last week.

The resolution states the organization’s support for the statewide implementation of such programs and declares that the MMS will advocate for expanded government funding for treatment programs to increase the capacity to treat more individuals. The policy adds to the society’s multiple efforts in addressing prescription drug abuse, which have included issuing prescribing guidelines, offering free educational courses on pain management for all prescribers, collaboration with state and public health officials on a variety of initiatives, and public information campaigns for patients about safe storage and disposal of pain medications.

The support for jail-diversion programs was one of a number of policies adopted by the statewide physicians group at its annual meeting, which brings together hundreds of Massachusetts physicians from across the state to consider specific resolutions on public health policy, healthcare delivery, and organizational administration by the society’s house of delegates, its policy-making body. Resolutions adopted by the delegates become policies of the organization. Among other policies adopted last week:

• Physician education about patients with intellectual disability/developmental disability. Recognizing the importance of physician knowledge about patients with intellectual and developmental disabilities and its commitment to supporting medically underserved populations, physicians adopted a resolution to provide continuing-medical-education opportunities for physicians that address the medical care of this population. The intent of the resolution is to increase the knowledge of associated disorders and syndromes and increase collaboration with other health-related professionals who provide services to these patients.

• Human trafficking. Understanding that physicians have a unique and critical role to play in preventing, identifying, and treating the victims of human trafficking, the MMS called for the integration of human-trafficking education into medical-school curricula and the schools of other health professions, to promote continuing medical education and training on the subject for all healthcare providers and encourage research to advance the understanding of human trafficking. In 2014, the MMS’s committee on violence intervention and prevention, in partnership with Massachusetts General Hospital’s Emergency Medicine Division of Global Health & Human Rights, published a comprehensive guidebook for physicians and other healthcare providers on human trafficking.

• Clinical skills assessment for physician licensure. In a show of support for medical students in Massachusetts and across the U.S. who are advocating for the elimination of the Step 2 Clinical Skills Assessment exam as a requirement for physician licensure, MMS delegates voted to urge the Mass. Board of Registration in Medicine to eliminate the test as a prerequisite to obtain a license to practice medicine. Objections to the test have arisen because of cost and the lack of published evidence of its value as a measure of a student’s clinical skills.

• Preventing weight stigma and discrimination of people with obesity. Declaring that weight bias is prevalent throughout the healthcare system, MMS expanded its policy on obesity and resolved to develop and promote educational information to physicians and medical students about weight stigma and to advocate for legislation and practices to prevent stigma and discrimination.

• Advertising by pharmaceutical companies. Expressing a concern for the rising costs of prescription drugs paid by patients, MMS physicians voted to advocate that all direct-to-consumer advertising expenses by pharmaceutical companies be reported publicly, to advocate that such costs not be passed on to patients, and to request that all relevant government agencies require reporting of direct-to-consumer advertising costs.

Physicians also adopted resolutions to improve physician knowledge about oral health and support efforts to make basic dental care accessible and affordable to homebound and nursing-home patients; and to support the education of parents, grandparents, and legal guardians of minors about the benefits of stress reduction through mindfulness training and to encourage mindfulness-based education in Massachusetts schools. Among other policies adopted by the physicians were those related to organizational bylaws, medical malpractice reform, and electronic health records.