Beyond analytics: How technology can support an end-to-end solution to the opioid crisis

Federal authorities are pushing states to go further with their initiatives to address the opioid crisis. Along with efforts in Congress and by the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to address the crisis, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) is taking the lead:  A recent letter from the acting director of CMS seeks to encourage states to make use of technology funding to support efforts to tackle opioid addiction. In particular, the letter singles out telemedicine and prescription monitoring tools as valuable technology-enabled solutions to address the crisis.

Until now, the focus has largely been on using federal grants and waiver programs for data and analytics initiatives to gain clear insights into the problem. The premise underlying this investment is that faster, more accurate information can lead to better outcomes and save lives. The programs implemented have been illuminating — identifying gaps in care, irregular prescribing patterns and overprescribers, as well as social determinants of opioid abuse.

CMS would now like to see states using technology to focus on prevention as well as intervention. The agency is emphasizing that funding is available from several different avenues — waivers and grants, and other advanced federal funding opportunities, including the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH) and the Medical Imaging and Technology Alliance (MITA). CMS is urging states not to wait for further guidance or legislation, but to make use of the money to tackle the problem.

What might these technology-enabled treatment solutions look like?

At a high level, one important step to treatment is to address the problem of addicts gaming the system by getting prescriptions written in multiple places by multiple prescribers. To overcome this problem, states need to use technology to share data, so prescribers can clearly identify patients with an addiction problem. In so doing, they can then work with those patients to manage their addiction.

Other uses include using technology to coordinate care and increase access to care. At a provider level, this might include telemedicine, telepsychiatry and telehealth services to support medication-assisted treatment (MAT), as well as providing behavioral health professionals with access to electronic health records (EHRs). Telehealth technology can also be used to connect substance abuse disorders (SUD) treatment providers to share strategies and deliver evidence-based care.

But when it comes to addiction treatment, there is far more to care coordination than just connecting care providers. Opioid addiction is much like any other addiction and can benefit from the same or similar types of programs to help addicts. Consider how important Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is to recovering alcoholics as a peer-driven program that brings addicts together to share their stories and make them accountable to another person.

Technology-enabled AA-style program drives accountability

That same AA concept can be conducted virtually, using technology to connect people. The benefit of this approach is that it brings together a wider network of people who care about the person battling an opioid addiction. So, while AA brings together recovering alcoholics, a technology-enabled coordinated care program will include the individual struggling with addiction, friends who care about that person, counselors and community care providers, volunteers from nonprofits committed to addressing the problem, as well as recovering addicts who want to help others benefit from their experience.

Having a broad network, including those who care most about the individual involved, creates a true sense of accountability. It goes beyond the clinical to include the personal. That personal element is a critical ingredient in accountability because both the person with the addiction and those helping him or her have a personal commitment and personal accountability to recovery. On the other hand, a purely clinical approach is unlikely to engender that sense of accountability by either party.

One provider of disease management and telephone-based care coordination solutions for chronic behavioral health conditions has found the personal care experience to be a key ingredient in successfully tackling substance abuse. According to Jaclyn Wainwright, CEO of AiR Healthcare Solutions, the key to preventing re-abuse after treatment is using technology to keep people connected to a care network.

AiR’s approach in leveraging a cloud-based care coordination solution has resulted in measurable success, including 80 percent of substance abuse patients remaining abstinent for 12 months and, at a financial level, $1 million saved in healthcare costs in a single year.



  1. Michelle Nelson says:

    This is a great idea to track addicts. IT IS becoming so difficult for people with serious conditions to get any type of pain relief medication because of those who abuse them.

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