EHRs and the opioid crisis

EHRs and the opioid crisis

As the opioid crisis continues to grow in the US, healthcare professionals are exploring options for independent physicians to proactively work toward curtailing the use and abuse of the prescription drugs. Technology can play a significant role in helping to achieve the goal of reducing addiction numbers and stopping the opioid crisis in its tracks.

The use of Electronic Prescribing for Controlled Substances (EPCS), for example, has been introduced as a way to address these high rates of drug abuse across the country. By making prescriptions harder to forge or steal, it reduces the ease with which teens and other citizens can access prescription drugs.

Electronic health records (EHRs) are another promising technology tool that can be used to stem the growth of the opioid crisis in the US. A setting that can be included in the EHR default technology can restrict the amount of tablets an independent physician is able to prescribe at one time for an opioid prescription.

A study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in March of 2017 was conducted of patients on opioid therapy to determine “data quantifying the transition from acute to chronic opioid use” that the researchers found lacking in current studies. The researchers found that “the rate of long-term use was relatively low (6.0% on opioids 1 year later) for persons with at least 1 day of opioid therapy, but increased to 13.5% for persons whose first episode of use was for ≥8 days and to 29.9% when the first episode of use was for ≥31 days.”

A separate study conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine found that physicians in two Penn Medicine emergency departments prescribed fewer tablets initially when their EHR was set to default at 10 tablets per prescription. Initial prescriptions for the lower amount of tablets increased, while the “number of prescriptions written for 20 tablets decreased by almost 7 percent, and prescriptions for 11 to 19 tablets decreased by over 13 percent.”

The lower number of tablets in the initial prescription may help stem the frequency of long-term use and abuse, as found in the CDC study. Independent physicians can play a key role in contributing to a reduction in opioid addiction and abuse, at the prescribing level, with the help of EHRs.