ONC Launches Website Highlighting Role of Health IT to Address Opioid Misuse and Abuse

April 7, 2016
The federal government continues to actively respond to the growing opioid crisis, and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) launched a new resource page highlighting health IT tools that are available to help care providers address the issue.

The federal government continues to actively respond to the growing opioid crisis, and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) launched a new resource page highlighting health IT tools that are available to help care providers address the issue.

“Since 1999, deaths from prescription pain medications in the U.S. have quadrupled, and right now, 44 people die from prescription opioid overdose each day. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology is working with public and private partners to address this crisis.  This page provides links to a variety of health IT resources available to address prescription drug misuse, abuse, and diversion,” the federal agency states on the “Attacking the Opioid Crisis Head ON with Health IT” resource page.

ONC specifically focused on three health IT resources that care providers can use to address prescription medication misuse and abuse—clinical decision support, electronic prescribing of controlled substances and prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs).

Last October, the Obama Administration announced efforts to address prescription drug abuse and heroin use through prescriber training and improving access to treatment. The Secretary for Health and Human Services’ Opioid Initiative was launched last March to combat the nation’s prescription opioid crisis.

According to ONC, the agency is supporting several activities aimed at utilizing health IT to improve health outcomes by reducing the misuse and abuse of opioid painkillers. Specifically, ONC is using health IT to improve access to PDMPs. “Providers, on the front lines, need actionable PDMP data that is readily available when making prescribing choices,” the agency stated. And ONC also is furthering the adoption of electronic prescribing of controlled substances (EPCS), which is now legal in all 50 states. According to ONC, EPCS can result in safer, more efficient prescribing and help reduce fraud and abuse.

As part of the new resource page, ONC offers information about tools and resources that can assist the care team in identifying appropriate clinical decision support interventions and that can be implemented along with workflow optimization to improve outcomes on priority goals. ONC defines clinical decision support (CDS) as “a process for enhancing health-related decisions and actions with pertinent, organized clinical knowledge and patient information to improve health and healthcare delivery.

The resource page also links to more information about trend in adoption and use of EPCS by provider type and geographic region. According to ONC, moving from paper-based prescribing to EPCS enables providers to make use of enhanced security features that technology affords. “Prescribers can be authenticated before prescribing a controlled substance and prescriptions may be transmitted to pharmacies securely without risk of alteration or diversion,” the agency stated.

The resource page also provides national EPCS statistics, citing data provided by the Surescripts national health information network, As of February 29, 2016, 82 percent of retail pharmacies and 12 percent of e-prescribing providers were enabled for EPCS. Out of the total number of new electronic prescriptions, both controlled and non-controlled substances, sent over the Surescripts network during the month of February, only 1.9 percent were new controlled substance prescriptions.

“We know that enablement and use of EPCS is growing. Despite, the rise in EPCS, more action is needed to promote wide-spread use of this technology nationwide. Some states, like New York are taking action to mandate electronic prescribing. ONC is working to educate the health care community on the benefits of electronic prescribing and importance of EPCS as a tool to support appropriate opioid prescribing,” ONC stated.

As reported by Healthcare Informatics Managing Editor Rajiv Leventhal, on March 27, a New York state that law that requires the electronic prescribing of all controlled and non-scheduled drugs went into effect. The law is part of the state’s Internet System for Tracking Over Prescribing (I-STOP) legislation, put in place in 2012 to curb prescription drug abuse, medical errors and fraud. In his article, Leventhal profiles how one upstate New York healthcare organization, Plattsburgh-based Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital, was an early adopter of e-prescribing and the clinical informatics team there was ready for the mandate long before the March 27 date. 

With the new resource page, ONC also points to the role of PDMPs in combatting opioid abuse, referring to these state-run electronic databases as “one of the most promising tools available to address prescription drug misuse, abuse and diversion.” PDMPs provide health information to physicians and other health care providers about an individual’s history of using controlled substance prescriptions. This information can be used to avoid inappropriate prescribing, identify drug-seeking behavior, and allows providers to intervene when there are signs of prescription drug misuse. 

“ONC is committed to making sure this critical information gets to health care providers when and where it is needed most—in the provider’s workflow. Making PDMP information available in health IT systems like EHRs can make it easy for physicians and pharmacists to quickly check a patient’s PDMP report before prescribing or dispensing powerful prescription pain medications. ONC has worked on a range of efforts seeking to ensure that the utility and promise of PDMPs is fully realized,” the federal agency stated.

ONC highlighted its PDMP and Health IT Integration initiative, which brought together the PDMP and heath IT communities to address the lack of uniform standards for prescription drug data. The PDMP and Health IT Integration initiative is working to establish a standardized approach to delivering data stored in the PDMPs to EHRs, pharmacy systems, and health information exchanges (HIEs), according to ONC.

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