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How Healthcare Providers Are Fighting the Opioid Epidemic on the Front Lines

As a nation, we are confronting a severe issue: an increasing number of fatal opioid overdoses.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2017, there were a record 70,000 overdose deaths, more than two-thirds of which involved opioids. Figures from 2018 show this trend has continued and more than 2 million people in the U.S. are now addicted to opioids.

A recent Premier analysis further illustrates how much the opioid epidemic is costing patients and the healthcare system.


Clinicians need frontline solutions to reduce addiction and manage pain for patients safely and effectively

With this in mind, healthcare providers face a two-fold challenge:

  • An influx of patients in the system, inundating an already busy workforce.
  • The need to advance pain management and preventative practices to prevent issues in the first place.

Fortunately, with broad, bipartisan support, 2019 should begin to bring major reforms to the pharmaceutical market and potential regulations that make it easier to care for patients with substance use disorder. Premier anticipates the Department of Health and Human Services will dive into the challenges that healthcare providers are having with opioids in a couple of venues. This includes potentially updating federal privacy laws surrounding opioids and serious mental illness, as well as modernizing the confidentiality requirements for patients undergoing addiction treatment.

Five ways healthcare providers are tackling the opioid epidemic

Leading hospitals are taking control of the situation in various ways.

  • Advocating for change. Premier and its members are strong advocates for improving regulations and policies to help tackle the opioid epidemic, including legislation to remove limits around care coordination for addiction. For example, the passage of the Overdose Prevention and Patient Safety Act in June 2018 is paving the way to modernize a 40-year-old law that has impeded healthcare providers’ ability to diagnose, treat and prevent addiction and other opioid-related disorders.
  • Collaborating to design, test and scale new care models. Members of Premier’s Hospital Improvement Innovation Network (HIIN) are testing and designing new care delivery processes to better manage pain and the potential for opioid drug addiction. As part of its HIIN, Premier has brought together 56 high-performing hospitals to participate in phase 2 of a pilot on safer post-operative pain management and addiction prevention efforts. They are joining forces to find solutions, implement new practices, and set new standards for the industry to reduce patient harm from opioid misuse, dependence and addiction.
  • Using high-quality services and solutions to support better pain management practices. By understanding which products most safely and effectively help patients recover from pain and prevent addiction, hospitals can ensure their patients receive the right care from the onset. Using learnings from its members, Premier developed a Safer Pain Management Toolkit that provides easy-to-access information and an aggregated inventory of products, solutions and resources that support pain management methods to improve patient safety.
  • Applying business intelligence to understand how these patients are cared for in the hospital. Hospital data that shows opioid visits, utilization and prescribing practices in various units, and especially the emergency department, can help providers understand where they have opportunities to build new care models for these patients. Premier conducted an analysis looking at these factors in the emergency department across nearly 650 hospitals to understand national trends, and shared individualized reports with its members so that they could easily benchmark their practices and pinpoint opportunities against national data.
  • Leveraging enabling technology to monitor and track patients in real time. Technology makes it easier than ever to monitor patients’ statuses across units, even between in-person clinical rounds, to help prevent adverse outcomes. For example, medication surveillance solutions can fire real-time alerts when a patient receives a potentially high-risk drug or a drug that could cause a dangerous interaction. Also useful are clinical decision support tools, which help clinicians select the correct dosage and duration of drugs, and solutions that monitor patients who are prescribed high-dose, extended-release opioids, to help screen for signs of overdose.

There is an urgent need to provide health systems and emergency caregivers with frontline solutions to stem the tide of opioid addiction in our communities. Providers leveraging these best practices are creating focused initiatives to reduce pain management and addiction specifically for the patients who need them.

For more on reducing overuse and misuse, and improving health outcomes, safety and costs at the same time, contact us.

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