Technology is the great separator in the opioid addiction crisis

In his New York Times op-ed, “How Doctors Helped Drive the Addiction Crisis, (Nov. 7, 2015),” Richard Friedman called for a sea-change within the medical profession to combat the growing addiction crisis in our country, calling for improved training and education for physicians.

I responded to Dr. Friedman’s op-ed in a Letter to the Editor, published in today’s New York Times, but there’s more to say. To elaborate on my response, I believe that while further education for caregivers (and patients and families) is certainly a necessary component to curbing this public health epidemic, it is by no means sufficient.

Many clinicians have been through nearly a decade of training and years of clinical practice. While most of us want to alleviate pain and suffering in our patients, we recognize that some of the most powerful medications we prescribe also have the most potential for abuse, addiction, and patient harm. But it isn’t a lack of training or education that prevents us from effectively combatting the addition crisis. It’s a lack of technology, outdated paper-based systems, lack of data, incomplete records, partial information, inaccurate information, and even intentional dis-information.

Clinicians who face the addiction crisis directly every day need to be armed with the right data and tools to help us make sound decisions when prescribing controlled substances. Give us access to a patient’s up-to-date medical history through truly inter-operable electronic medical records and prescription drug monitoring programs. Give us a safe, robust, transparent method of prescribing these powerful medications appropriately, like Dr. Friedman’s home state of New York has begun to do with the I-STOP law.

EPCS and EMR technology are key

Access to a patient’s medical history through an electronic medical record, as well as an electronic prescribing platform to better monitor prescriptions and combat fraud and counterfeiting, would allow a doctor to see trends in a patient’s prescription history and make decisions based on how an ailment has been previously treated. This transparency will enable clinicians to treat those patients who legitimately need opioid prescriptions for pain management and help put a stop to controlled substance abuse, diversion, and fraud.

For more on this topic, I recently moderated a panel on two technology-based strategies – Prescription Monitoring Programs (PMPs) and the Electronic Prescribing of Controlled Substances (EPCS) – in a forum hosted by the Massachusetts Health Data Consortium. The full recording is available on our blog.