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What healthcare leaders can learn from the opioid crisis

I have seen many wins and losses when it comes to addressing the opioid crisis. We still have a long way to go in reducing overdoses and addiction.

The information at our fingertips now can be used to help us avoid patient over-use of new medications tomorrow. What we’ve learned from the opioid crisis can guide healthcare leaders to make more informed decisions in the future.

Don’t forget to educate on side effects

Patients taking their first opioid dosages need to know what to expect. Providers typically educate on pain relief, but they sometimes forget about side effects. The biggest challenge when it comes to opioids is understanding that pain is OK. Patients need to understand that pain is a safety mechanism that prevents them from making bad decisions.

Approaches to pain management have improved

Thirty years ago, it was easy for pharmacists in hospitals to process orders for opioids without major long-term concerns since the expectation was to manage the acute situation. Over the years, of course, this has changed as we started to see patient population impacts on addiction and overdose escalation. The key to addressing this has always been education.

Working with teams of medical directors, physicians and nurses taught me that proper education reduces opioid use and increases dispensing of non-opioid products. I was concerned five years ago how punitive it was going to be for anyone in healthcare to prescribe opioids. Providers are much better educated now on the appropriate use of opioids and alternative therapies.

Technology helps curb opioid reliance

Early on as a pharmacist, I found that electronic health records (EHRs) sometimes limited my view. Now, EHRs enable clinicians to look at the patient holistically. Prompts offered by EHRs can alert us all to the utilization of opioids, non-opioids and non-medications alternatives.

EHRs provide data but the future is in predictive analytics and machine learning that looks at high-risk populations and drives more effective and safer treatments.

Some efforts addressing the opioid crisis are flawed

Legislation and funding to support opioid crisis programs have been approved, but unfortunately, it hasn’t been enough. As a country, we are still in reactive mode when it comes to addressing the crisis.

We have to view the current crisis more broadly to understand how we can use data to tackle the next possible crisis. We believe that the hardest part of healthcare shouldn’t be gathering the information to provide it properly.

Editor’s note: Reed Hansen spoke on this topic at the Becker’s Hospital Review 10th Annual Meeting on April 1, 2019.

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