Making Communities Healthier: Health IT and the Opioid Addiction Crisis

By Sharif Hussein, chief strategy officer and president, Health and Human Services, CNSI; a HIMSS Gold Corporate Member and National Health IT Week Partner

During National Health IT Week, champions from across the industry are uniting to share their voices on how health IT is catalyzing change in U.S. healthcare. The following post from a National Health IT Week Partner is one of the many perspectives of how information and technology is transforming health in America.

 Sharif Hussein

From electronic healthcare records to patient engagement apps, information technology offers solutions to some of healthcare’s most fundamental, long-term challenges. However, health IT can and should be leveraged for time-sensitive, specific issues. One could make the case that there is no issue more critical today than that of the opioid epidemic.

Communities around the U.S. are being ravaged by opioid addiction, with more than 115 people dying from an overdose every single day. More specifically, Medicaid beneficiaries are 10 times more likely to abuse substances than the general population. But tackling an issue with the scope and severity of the opioid crisis is a daunting prospect. What type of resources and actions should we deploy? Where should we deploy them and when?

That’s where leveraging big data comes in.

Opioid addiction typically starts with a legitimate prescription, which a patient receives at a doctor’s visit. This doctor’s visit and all the notes contained therein are routed through IT systems to facilitate the transaction between patient, provider and payer.

For the general population, this data remains siloed between multiple stakeholders. However, for Medicaid beneficiaries, their data resides all in one place – the state’s Medicaid Management Information System (MMIS). Inside these large, complex systems are millions of data points that, when aggregated, analyzed and acted upon, can save lives.

The technology to do just this exists. The state of Michigan has developed a proof-of-concept addiction identification tool that combs MMIS datasets in a matter of seconds to identify patterns that indicate addictive behavior. This includes, but is not limited to, frequency of doctor visits, frequency of pharmacy visits, and request for early refills.

In the time it takes a person to ask their favorite artificial intelligence what the weather is, state officials can get instantaneous data on how many males overdosed in a county during a certain time frame or how many providers prescribed opioids in a given month. In addition, the tool uses statistical modeling to score members based on their risk for opioid abuse using potential influencing factors that lead to abuse. Examples of these indicators include age, gender, county, number of providers, number of psychiatric diagnoses, etc.

With access to this type of specific, targeted information, community stakeholders can identify anomalous providers and members, analyze policy impact with real-time data, receive notifications on key influencers and monitor medical history. All of these data sets – when acted upon – can facilitate intervention prior to full-blown addiction.

But in order for this kind of innovation to scale its positive impact – from one single person suffering with addiction to an entire community impacted by opioid trafficking – government agencies, private companies and non-profit organizations need to collaborate. When information is shared, resources pulled, ideas formed, only then can we leverage the best health IT has to offer and truly be the catalysts of change National Health IT week so astutely celebrates.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog or by commenters are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of HIMSS or its affiliates.

National Health IT Week | October 8-12

Healthcare Transformation | Access to Care | Economic Opportunity | Healthy Communities

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