Virginia turns to data analytics to fight opioid crisis; Intermountain Healthcare EHR effort cuts prescriptions

Data-driven approaches to stemming the opioid epidemic have focused recently on prescribing practices.

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe announced his state’s drive to stem the state’s opioid addiction problem by crunching healthcare data. The move is the latest in a series of efforts by governments and large healthcare organizations to get a handle on the problem.

The governor’s announcement comes amid widespread concern over a deepening addiction crisis, with the state’s commissioner of health declaring opioid and heroin overdoses a public health emergency last year.

Using data currently being collected by interns from George Washington University and George Mason University, 15 teams will collaborate with a variety of subject matter experts to develop solutions to the myriad challenges facing communities and the commonwealth.

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“We know that if collected and used correctly, data can help us fight this opioid epidemic by identifying the communities and populations that are most vulnerable,” said Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Resources Dr. Bill Hazel.

Other states and healthcare organizations have looked to data-driven solutions as the opioid epidemic has worsened, including efforts in Connecticut and Michigan that target prescribing practices.

Likewise, Utah-based healthcare provider Intermountain Healthcare recently responded to the problem by launching a program designed to achieve a 40% reduction in opioid prescribing. As part of the initiative, the health system announced it would lean heavily on its EHR system to encourage physicians to curb their prescribing habits, predominantly through additional prompts and default order sets.

Doug Smith, M.D., associate medical director for Intermountain Healthcare, points out the balancing act required to ensure patients continue to receive necessary care, even as physicians attempt to scale back their prescribing rates. “We will follow best practices in prescribing so that medications prescribed more closely match the needs of patients,” he says.

Recent studies have shown that most patients receive more opioids than they use, and that they frequently fail to dispose of them properly. Another recent study found nearly a quarter of Medicaid patients received opioid prescriptions in 2015, despite that population being 10 times more likely to become addicted than the general population.

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