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Letters, classes, pain management programs: How planners can help combat opioid misuse

October 23, 2018

    Nearly 5 million Americans are dependent on opioids today. In response to rising rates of opioid overdose and death, payers and health system leadership are increasingly looking to planners—with their deep analytical expertise, action planning skills, and experience supporting strategic decision making—to help address this public health crisis.

    New tool: Access the Medicare Opioid Prescription Assessment

    Science recently featured one promising intervention for planners to consider, which involves sending letters to physicians to notify them of a recent patient's fatal opioid overdose. Researchers found that doctors who received such letters reduced their opioid prescribing rate by nearly 10% over the course of the three-month study.

    Hammerhead Hospital, a pseudonym-ed academic medical center, recently implemented another targeted intervention: It requires pain patients to attend a workshop before receiving opioid prescriptions. The workshop, which focuses on ways to properly handle opioid drugs and tactics to minimize dependence, improved adherence to prescribed doses and increased patient awareness of opioid alternatives. At a community level, planners estimated that the workshops reduced risk of opioid abuse throughout the district.

    3 tips to establish an outpatient pain management program

    In addition to these targeted tactics for addressing opioid abuse, planners can also take a more comprehensive approach to promoting responsible opioid distribution by establishing an outpatient pain management program. This program often involves chronic care, behavioral health, and rehabilitation specialists, who provide primary treatment for pain patients. In addition to supporting hospitals' major service lines, pain management programs have been shown to significantly decrease patients' physical and emotional distress. We've outlined three steps for creating a pain management program:

    1. Select an impactful program structure: First, define your pain program's scope. This step involves determining how pain management fits in larger strategic priorities and evaluating which pain services position your program for success in the local market. To help with this assessment, we've created the Opioid Population Profiler, which includes key performance indicators indicating your market's response to the opioid epidemic.

    2. Plan for crucial investments: Next, evaluate existing infrastructure that can be dedicated to pain services and determine your program's ability to invest in additional resources for a pain management program. This includes outlining budgetary guidelines for pain program buildout, taking stock of any existing specialty staffing and technology, and setting long-term plans to align program growth with additional investment decisions.

    3. Develop techniques for managing opioid misuse: Finally, defining approaches to monitor and manage opioid use is crucial for ensuring program success. One way to curb opioid abuse is to implement mandatory patient educational classes to emphasize safe utilization techniques and delineate alternative treatment options.

    Opioid misuse is a complex issue that requires a system-wide strategic approach to manage. While targeted interventions such as letter writing may impact physicians' prescribing patterns, planners should also consider a more comprehensive approach like a pain management program to help manage the epidemic.


    Nov. 7 webcon: Stay up-to-date on the opioid crisis

    Join an expert on national opioid trends to learn what you need to know to stay on top of the opioid epidemic.

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