The healthcare industry of the United States is facing a major issue – the opioid crisis. Opioid abuse is now a growing public health concern that is resulting in many opioid related deaths. Over the past decade, hospitals have also noted a prominent rise in the opioid-related visits. The epidemic is evident across multiple delivery points and the industry is still struggling to find an effective solution. The current scenario calls for quick implementation of the right strategies in association with improved health plans. Studies suggest that Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs) and latest health plans are increasingly attempting to leverage data driven and evidence based approaches to change the behavioral patterns of patients. The healthcare industry is also counting on advancing technologies for support to control the opioid epidemic. Curbing opioid crisis needs a collaborated effort of all the sections of the healthcare industry including the government and various communities. However, healthcare leaders are also thinking of ways to address the issue in their respective organizations for immediate effect.
Let’s have a look at the strategies that could be helpful in handling the ongoing opioid crisis:
1. Data and Technology
Data, combined with technology, is a powerful tool that can be helpful in addressing the opioid misuse. PBMs and health plans are using new and advanced technologies to analyze the opioid utilization data and identify the opioid-prescribing patterns of the clinicians. They are also reaching out to clinicians to provide them with feedback and develop shared decision making tools for navigating the treatments options more effectively. Advanced technologies like data analytics, virtual care, predictive analysis etc. are also being used for refining the approaches to handle opioid crisis.
2. Policy Changes and Research
Opioid misuse cannot be controlled by PBMs and health plans alone as they only form a part of the healthcare system. Changes are also required in the workforce development policies to mandate electronic prescribing of controlled substances (EPCS) and encourage the study of behavioral health specialties among healthcare professionals. There is also a need of deeper research on substance use disorder (SUD), chronic pain and addiction. The factors of SUD outside the healthcare system that we call ‘social determinants of health’ and include loneliness, unemployment and family members with SUD are also needed to be analyzed.
3. Non-Opioid Pain-Management Therapies
In the US more than 100 million people suffer from chronic pain and every year a huge number of deaths related to opioid overuse are also reported. It’s evident that prescription pain medications, if not used properly, can be fatal and even an experienced physician and a sincere patient can use it improperly. For a number of people, effective dosage for opioids always keeps on increasing leading to an unsustainable and dangerous pattern. However, there are non-pharmacological options for managing pain. Alternatives like massage therapy, heat, ice, aromatherapy etc. can be considered. However, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons carefully before prescribing these to patients.
4. Adopting and Monitoring New Guidelines
New guidelines need to developed, adopted and monitored. Organizations are using the stakeholder feedback to formulate new guidelines that can help in overcoming the increasing challenges. Healthcare leaders need to assign team members in all disciplines for monitoring the latest research and recommendations on preventing the opioid abuse. Identifying problem users and reducing their opioid prescription rates should be done. Healthcare organizations need to adopt smarter approaches to ensure that they are acting in compliance with the regulations and best practices.
5. Monitoring Patients
When a patient has been prescribed opioids, the patient care team should follow up to make sure that the patient is continuing responsible use of the medication. Many healthcare providers and pharmacists do have close relationship with patients and are familiar with the medications they are taking. They can play an active role in this process of follow up, on a regular basis, after a patient begins a long term therapy or has been prescribed an increased dosage.
Opioid epidemic is growing to be a worrisome issue and is impacting almost every community. To fight the crisis it’s important that the healthcare leaders stay vigilant in spotting misuse and finding preventive strategies. Organizations, on the other hand, can work on individual levels with effective strategies and contribute to the benefit of the entire healthcare community.