Katya Samardina

Interoperability vs. the Opioid Crisis

Monitor interfaces
The opioid crisis has passed a catastrophic milestone in the United States, taking the lives of over 100 Americans a day with no sign of slowing. Lawmakers and healthcare providers are urgently trying to find a solution to the crisis, and recent reports have found that health information technology (HIT) interoperability could help—but only if the software is actually used.

Health IT professionals have long advocated the urgent need for computerized systems to connect, communicate, share, and interpret data under the banner of “interoperability,” but while there has been significant uptake in purchases, there hasn’t been the same uptake in usage.

In a recent thought leadership panel focused on the current and future state of interoperability, Michael Matthews, president of The Sequoia Project, said that the crisis was affecting every level of society and needed to be addressed through interoperability.

“The use of the tools such as e-prescribing are great examples of interoperability. The efficiency (that e-prescribing has produced) in the workflow for all of the stakeholders, whether they’re the pharmacist, the providers, or the patient, is much more than before. So there’s a business model that works. I look at that example and say, ‘How can we learn from that and how can we apply it to other cases?’

“Just a step away from that is opioids. The entire country—every region, every community—is dealing with the opioid crisis.”

He went on to state that many of the efficiencies gained in other areas through interoperability were not being utilized in the approach to dealing with the crisis, and industry reports confirm that statement. Though a majority of providers use electronic prescriptions for controlled substances (EPCS), far fewer prescribers use the technology for prescribing prescription opioids, which can exacerbate the problem.

Healthcare interoperability solutions have numerous benefits which can help to manage the issue, including:

  • Supporting access for patients with valid medical needs
  • Helping to identify, deter, or prevent drug abuse and diversion
  • Helping to decrease fraud and abuse

While software developers have pushed those benefits, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has also come out in support. In a recent report they stated that the Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs) system, which relies on interoperability, can help with the crisis—if, once again, it’s used properly.

“A promising strategy for addressing the prescription opioid overdose epidemic is improving the use of prescription drug monitoring programs,” said Matthews.

PDMPs are state-run databases that collect patient-specific prescription information at the point of dispensing. Data is transmitted to a central repository where authorized users—such as medical professionals, public health agencies, regulatory bodies, and law enforcement agencies—may access them.

“Many states have promoted use of PDMPs by registered prescribers and dispensers to inform their clinical decisions and allow for intervention at the point of care. However, PDMP data that has not been well integrated into HIT systems at the point of care for efficient workflow, coupled with limited data sharing across states, have slowed adoption of PDMP use among healthcare professionals who prescribe and dispense prescription opioids.”

The federal agency believes that increasing the usage of PDMPs will bring about improvements in prescribing and dispensing practices, ultimately leading to decreases in prescription opioid abuse and improvements in healthcare.

And with deaths from prescription drug abuse outpacing those from cocaine and heroin combined, the increased usage of interoperability solutions could be a lifesaver.


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