Technology can help fight opioid epidemic

Technology available today is said to play a critical role in helping healthcare professionals combat the opioid epidemic and reduce the devastating human and economic impacts of the nationwide health emergency.

In a new paper, Paul Uhrig, Surescripts chief administrative, legal and privacy officer, outlines how technology can address two challenges presented by the opioid epidemic: drug diversion or illegal use of prescription opioids and clinical appropriateness of opioids for patients with a true therapeutic need.

“More people are dying in this country right now from drug overdoses than from car accidents,” said Dr Sean Kelly, chief medical officer of imprivata and emergency physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre. “So we need technology and regulatory standards to help us with patient safety and curbing this epidemic.”

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, between 2015 and 2016, the opioid overdose death rate increased by 28 percent, bringing the death toll in 2016 to 42,200—nearly five people every hour. According to a 2017 Council of Economic Advisers report, the opioid crisis cost the nation US$504 billion in economic losses in 2015, or 2.8 percent of the gross domestic product that year. All told, the epidemic has cost the US more than 1 trillion dollars since 2001 according to a report by Altarum, a nonprofit healthcare systems research and consulting organisation.

“Technology can help fight the opioid epidemic, but only when it’s deployed and used in the course of delivering care,” said Uhrig. “In its absence, clinicians and prescribers are robbed of crucial insights and forced to forage for data manually—trying to make optimal care decisions and deliver adequate pain management without the best intelligence to do so.”

In the paper, Uhrig highlights five technologies that can help healthcare professionals who are on the front line by informing their care decisions with more actionable intelligence at the point of care.

1. Medication history: Real-time medication history, including both controlled and non-controlled substances, delivered electronically at the point of prescribing, gives prescribers a more complete view of a patient’s care history, so they can avoid adverse drug events and spot potential abuse.

2. Medical records: With a nationwide record locator and exchange service, clinicians can access a patient’s past care records from any care setting across the US, so they can quickly identify suspicious care patterns.

3. Electronic prescribing: Electronic Prescribing for Controlled Substances and the ability to cancel a prescription electronically help increase patient safety and medication adherence while preventing the potential fraud and abuse that occurs more easily with paper prescriptions.

4. Provider communications: If a provider suspects potential abuse, they can use direct messaging within their workflow to securely and easily communicate with other providers who have treated a patient.

5. Medication adherence insights: Real-time alerts at the point of care give providers insights into whether or not their patient is adhering to prescribed medications.

“Addressing the opioid crisis requires a closed-loop approach with tools that provide information, enable action, and enhance communication,” said Dr John Halamka, chief information officer at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre. 

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