The Intersection of Addiction Treatment and Healthcare IT

By Kayla Matthews, HealthIT writer and technology enthusiast, Tech Blog
Twitter: @ProductiBytes

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 46 people die per day as a result of a drug overdose from prescription opioids. In 2017, there were an estimated 72,000 deaths from drug overdoses, with fentanyl and fentanyl analogs (synthetic opioids) holding the bulk of responsibility, at nearly 30,000 overdose deaths.

Hailed by many as the opioid crisis, it is a monumental and dastardly problem that grows increasingly difficult to address. The fact that many of the overdoses come from prescribed medications — doled out legally by healthcare professionals — reveals that the problem lies not just in the distribution of such drugs, but with the entire healthcare system.

We have an insurmountable problem that will continue to grow worse each day — and to think it’s already out of hand. Believe it or not, the key to combating such a thing is to use robust forms of data and effective analysis.

Admittedly, it does seem ridiculous that data and similar digital technologies can help solve the opioid crisis, but that doesn’t make it any less true. The intersection of addiction treatment and healthcare IT is the answer to many of our society’s problems.

How so?

Finding Answers and Methods That Work
Right now, without any outside help, one can essentially describe the act of fighting widespread addiction as punching a brick wall bare-fisted. The wall never gets so much as a dent, while that fist continues to buckle and bloody.

This is because, as a community, we do not truly understand addiction, nor do we know how to deal with it. There are many proposed solutions and strategies, of course, but all have yet to produce results.

Conventional recovery and rehabilitation tend to serve as a band-aid, covering up the wound but not healing it altogether. In reality, many addicts exit rehab clean only to return a short while later. Unfortunately, there’s no way to provide true statistics on the success of rehabilitation centers because it’s just this “black box” currently.

That’s not to say rehab doesn’t work. In fact, up to 90 percent of people who need drug rehab the most do not receive it. That also means many of the people it’s failing would have been better suited to another form of treatment anyway.

Both of these points highlight a dire need for current and real-time data that can be used to formulate insights about the current state of addiction. The message here is not meant to detract from conventional rehabilitation, which can work for some. Instead, it’s about acquiring performance and statistical information to find out who it does work for. More importantly, it can help inform future methods of treatment, and may even be able to help discover or find those in need — people from that massive 90 percent who would have otherwise fallen through the cracks.

Data can help thwart this growing problem, perhaps more than any other solution we’ve come up with as a society thus far.

How Data and Healthcare IT Will Make an Impact
So, how do healthcare IT and modern data technologies fit into the equation? What can they do to help accelerate a decrease in rampant addiction? Consider these applications:

  • Tracking Methods: Behavioral health and EHR systems can be used as more accurate tracking and identification methods. When paired with technologies like AI and machine learning, risks can be highlighted pertaining to a patient’s history and records, personality and even genetics. Information about every visit or session is entered into a collective system, which gets compacted together to create a more complete profile about each patient.
  • Medication Management: EHR systems also foster improved organization and better medication and supply management. Not only can this help mitigate theft or fraud, but it can also cut down on improper prescriptions and handling. The more dangerous medications can even be tracked as a means to ensure proper distribution.
  • Industry Resources: EHR and healthcare information systems can keep professionals and analysts more informed about what’s happening across the field, and also within the walls of each facility or practice. Healthcare professionals across multiple locations and regions can clearly see that a patient has already been prescribed opioids, allowing them to assess whether or not they truly need more.

The technology has a proven track record, too. In the state of Washington, the total number of patients who received prescriptions from multiple doctors dropped by 25 percent between 2012 and 2014.

All in all, data technologies and healthcare IT are sure to serve as major components for fighting addiction going forward.