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Population health

Can Population Health Management Tools Help Stem the Opiate Epidemic?

July 23, 2018

Can Population Health Management Tools Help Stem the Opiate Epidemic?

In 2016 alone, 63,000 young Americans died as a result of the massive Opiate crisis in our nation. A graphic originally published in the New York Times in October 2017, depicts the US death rates from drug overdoses by region from 1999 to 2015. It illustrates so powerfully the evolution and magnitude of the massive Opiate crisis we face today.

This epidemic is requiring a multi-pronged approach spanning legislative, social, health policy, clinical and practice initiatives. The challenge is treating the massive population of opiate dependent individuals effectively and compassionately, while taking steps to prevent other patients from developing opiate dependence in the first place.

How can Population Health Management (PHM) Assist?

PHM tools can play an important role in addressing these challenges. PHM platforms have the ability to create, describe and measure groups of patients who share common denominators. This is an essential capability for the task at hand. It is critical to identify cohorts of patients who are on Opioids, and group patients based on their Morphine Milligram Equivalents (MME) or other pertinent characteristics. For patients identified on high MME doses, it is critical to track and alert the prescribing providers to gaps in recommended best practice care such as pain contract completion, as well as gaps in the required urine screening tests. Automating these tasks and delivering these insights at the point of care, as the NextGen Population Health tool does, provides significant advantages to the care teams managing these patients.

In clinical settings where patients are routinely evaluated for opiate abuse risk with structured questionnaires such as the Opioid Risk Tool (ORT), clinicians are able to flag the charts of patient who score high on this validated, self-administered tool, driving increased awareness and caution with future Opiate prescriptions. It is this type of information that allows care teams to prevent Opioids from being prescribed freely to individuals at very high risk for habituation and abuse.

Providing descriptive analytics on the rates and amounts of prescribed Opioid medications among physicians in a given organization allows clinical leaders to assess areas of opportunity for intervention, support and education. It allows identifying practice pattern variation pertaining to prescription opioids and treatment of pain disorders. The ability to identify significant outliers among physicians also can be used to identify the rare cases of malfeasance that frequently go undetected for long periods of time.

Population Health Management tools allow an aggregated high-level view of an event that for too long was observed and tracked only at the individual patient level in the EHR. I firmly believe that if these views were available in the early stages of this national epidemic, it would not have grown to the tragic proportions we are facing today.

Here at NextGen we would love to learn about the ways your practice has been impacted by this epidemic. Please tell us about effective workflows and interventions you have implemented to work with this unique group of patients.


Dr. Betty Rabinowitz MD FACP

Chief Medical Officer

Get in touch with Betty