Wednesday, May 30, 2012

How to turn away pain patients: the game

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Dr. Danielle McCarthy (right) testing “drug abuse detection” videogame
Dr. McCarthy (r) testing “drug abuse detection” videogame

As if policies regarding prescription painkillers weren’t draconian enough already, there’s a new educational videogame on the way that would purportedly teach physicians how to recognize drug abusers posing as pain patients and turn them away, presumably with no risk whatsoever of actual pain sufferers being labeled as junkies and denied their medication:

As Dr. Danielle McCarthy listens to a man beg for a prescription for painkillers, she weighs her possible responses.

A 31-year-old emergency room physician, she listens patiently as the man tells her that “every morning I wake up in pain,” describing the agony he continues to endure, three years after being injured in a car wreck.

He has tried physical therapy, acupuncture and chiropractic treatment, he says. Nothing works except pills, he insists, as his voice grows louder and more demanding.

Their exchange is similar to conversations that take place on almost every shift at Northwestern Memorial Hospital here, Dr. McCarthy said. But it is fiction — part of an interactive video game designed to train doctors to identify deceptive behavior by people likely to abuse prescription painkillers. The patient is an actor whose statements and responses are generated by the program.

The video game was designed based on research by Dr. Michael F. Fleming at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and draws on technology used by the F.B.I. to train agents in interrogation tactics. It teaches doctors to look for warning signs of drug abuse, like a history of family problems, and to observe nonverbal signs of nervousness, like breaking eye contact, fidgeting and finger-tapping.

The game, which is in its final phase of testing, is aimed at primary care and family doctors, who often feel uncomfortable and unqualified assessing their patients in this regard.

Anyone who can’t immediately identify about two hundred problems with just about every aspect of this idea is categorically unfit to debate drug policy, much less craft it. Though, to be fair, I suppose the only option left for drug warriors who wanted to make the whole situation even more ridiculous and restrictive was to literally make a game of it.

The government seriously needs to get the hell out of the relationship between doctors and their patients. The only thing resulting from threatening medical workers with harassment and prosecution for doing their jobs is more and more victims of injury and malady being denied access to medicine. Chalk it up to yet more casualties in the blindly ideological and transparently futile war on human nature itself.

(via @jacobsullum)