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Tuesday November 8, 2022

Can Interoperability Address the Opioid Epidemic?

Interoperability is a buzzword in the healthcare IT (HIT) world that essentially means computer systems talking with one another—but could it also hold the key to helping providers stem the tide of opioid-related overdoses?

A nationwide health information exchange (HIE), matching patients to their data, across networks and interactions with providers, offers the promise of meaningfully impacting population health management, bringing treatment to remote or isolated patients, and streamlining the entire delivery of care.

In this post, we’ll focus on how electronic health records (EHR) have made a difference for those communities hardest hit by the opioid epidemic, and how this technology can be configured to meet any community’s population health management needs.

Synthetic Opioids: A Growing Epidemic

Opioids are pain-relieving substances that act on the nervous system or specific receptors in the brain. There are a wide variety of opioids, including prescription medications, heroin, and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.

Beginning in the late 1990s, synthetic opioids became widely prescribed throughout the United States to manage chronic and acute pain. While it was initially believed that patients were not at significant risk of abusing synthetic opioids, these medications soon proved highly addictive and extremely dangerous. According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control), of the 91,799 drug overdoses that claimed American lives in 2020, nearly 75 percent can be attributed to opioids. Of those deaths, 82 percent involved synthetic opioids.

In response to this growing epidemic, the federal government passed the Substance Use Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment (SUPPORT) for Patients and Communities Act in June of 2018. Recently, the CDC and the Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Assistance also incentivized states with grants to fight opioid abuse by participating in RxCheck, a federally supported open-source data-sharing hub.

To support these data-sharing and prevention programs, many states and healthcare systems have established partnerships with privately held healthcare technology and EHR (electronic health record) vendors as part of a growing movement toward leveraging interoperability to combat the opioid crisis.

How EHRs can Help

EHR-supported processes like EPCS (electronic prescribing of controlled substances) allow clinicians to digitally submit prescriptions for these types of medications, increasing security, preventing fraud, and providing greater opportunities to hold providers accountable.

Conversely, some states have demonstrated early success in improving clinical reconciliation and decision support for facilities through privately managed and state-funded interoperability initiatives, which frequently involve state-run Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs).

While many states and private organizations have effectively used these processes to prevent the abuse of opioids, the road to nationwide interoperability remains rocky.

The PDMP Problem: Interoperability Across State Lines

In 2018, the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) outlined various data interoperability barriers to solving opioid issues to the Senate Committee on Finance.

While PDMPs are a targeted solution that has given providers a competitive advantage on a state-by-state basis, the lack of a secure, standardized process for managing prescriptions across state lines is problematic. Patient data and medication access rules vary by state. In many cases, providers who do not practice locally can see but not share or save medication histories that may identify habitual abusers.

The Interoperability Solution

Although privately held HIEs that integrate PDMPs have been shown to generate good results at the state level, to get the most out of what is already established, and to make marked progress in controlling opioid abuse across state lines, further collaboration and standardization are necessary.

CHIME notes that thanks to the widespread adoption of EHRs after the passage of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, much of the groundwork for leveraging healthcare data technology systems is already in place.

Interoperability can be a powerful weapon in the fight against the opioid epidemic if EHR vendors, hospitals, and the government can cooperate to standardize connections between patient data systems.

An EHR Designed for Community Care

MEDHOST’s interoperability platform offers solutions that facilitate improved care coordination, data availability to patients and third-party applications, reporting to public health agencies, and HIEs at state and federal levels, while complying with necessary legislative requirements.

Learn how we’ve come to be a trusted IT solutions and services provider for healthcare facilities for over 35 years. Email us at or call 1.800.383.6278.

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