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  • Writer's pictureMuhammad Sair Khan

The Opioid Epidemic and Health IT

More than 2.5 million Americans are addicted to prescription opioids or heroin. This epidemic, which has been growing since the 90s, is claiming more than 30,000 lives each year.

The government is working to find new ways to combat the opioid epidemic, with the House passing the most expansive legislation to address the problem in September. Composed of 58 separate bills, this package of legislation aims to improve access to addiction recovery services, reduce the use of fentanyl, and help uncover alternative pain relievers.

Other bills aimed at solving the opioid epidemic have centered around expanding health information technology (IT).

Prescription Drug Programs

A number of legislative changes and government programs are working to stop addiction before it starts and to help doctors identify patients who may be addicted to prescription pain medicines.

In 2003, when the opioid epidemic wasn’t making headlines yet, the federal government offered grants to help states create Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs). These programs make it easier for physicians to determine if patients have prescriptions for opioids or narcotics.

These programs improve patient safety, helping doctors address possible opioid use disorders and prevent potentially lethal medication interactions. Beginning in 2020, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will require that all physicians check the PDMP before issuing an opioid prescription.

Other health IT programs continue to expand, including electronic prescribing of controlled substances. In 2010, DEA regulations were revised to allow physicians to use electronic, not paper, prescriptions for controlled substances. Some states, such as Maine, now require that all controlled substances have an electronic prescription.

The goal of these electronic prescriptions is to help prevent prescription fraud. The prescription is securely delivered to the pharmacy, helping ensure the right patient receives the right medicine.

Telehealth Technology at Behavioral Health Facilities

Technology is also playing a role in the treatment of opioid addiction. CMS now reimburses for telehealth services, including remote check-in or follow-up services and prolonged preventive care services. This means behavioral health facilities can be paid for faster, and more easily follow-up with patients.

Telehealth services also expands the service area of a behavioral health facility. With increasing demand for addiction recovery services, telehealth allows facilities to reach more patients. Since the opioid epidemic is greatly impacting rural areas, expanding telehealth services could help more patients receive the support they need, no matter where they live. The government even provides grants for telehealth technology to providers caring for people in rural areas.

These services also help patients stay on the road to recovery as they receive outpatient care. In a moment of crisis, patients can use a smartphone app to reach a provider and find support. This instant access to care may help improve long-term abstinence.

Utilizing secure, reliable technology is an important part of battling the opioid epidemic. Learn how your facility can improve your patient’s recovery and increase revenue using the latest technology. Download our Providers Guide to Telehealth Services to find out you can implement these services.

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