The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development recently released a report that highlights the severity of the opioid crisis in the U.S. and globally. The report details an alarming increase in opioid-related deaths in 25 OECD countries that track this data. Overall, opioid-related deaths rose 20% between 2011 and 2016, and the U.S. saw a significant uptick.
The report called out overprescribing of opioids to manage chronic and acute pain as a root cause for this spike. According to the OECD, the number of opioid prescriptions dispensed in OECD countries increased 110% in one decade, although that has slowed in recent years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has noted a similar decline but cautioned that today's prescription rates still remain high compared with 1999. In 2016, the CDC released guidelines for primary-care physicians for prescribing opioids, and in its report the OECD recommended that "doctors should improve their prescribing practices."
This is a laudable recommendation, and one that the CHIME Opioid Task Force supports, but carrying it out is no simple task. The College of Healthcare Information Management Executives launched the Opioid Task Force in early 2018 to combat the epidemic using the knowledge and expertise of our membership, which includes more than 2,900 senior healthcare IT executives in hospitals, health systems and healthcare organizations in 51 countries. The task force agrees with the CDC and OECD that targeting physician prescribing patterns offers a promising opportunity to stem the tide on addiction and overdose deaths, and we see health IT as being a valuable tool to achieve this goal.
Most hospitals and health systems in the U.S. now use electronic health records to capture and store patient data. EHRs are tremendous resources that hospitals and health systems can tap for a number of benefits, including to combat the opioid epidemic. For instance, some healthcare organizations have used their EHRs to track opioid prescriptions by physician and then display the results in a dashboard. This allowed the hospitals to identify outliers, show physicians how they compare with their peers and educate those who appear to be overprescribing. Using IT, they have been able to build in clinical guidelines like the CDC's, create resources for physicians and patients that identify nonpharmaceutical alternatives to opioids to manage pain, and even launch community awareness campaigns.
Some hospitals that apply IT-based strategies have reported reductions in opioid prescriptions of 50% or more. That means fewer patients being exposed to opioids, and for those who truly need opioids to manage pain, they receive only as many pills as necessary and at the lowest dosage to be effective. Just as importantly, less prescribing translates into fewer pills in medicine cabinets that could be abused by a family member or friend, or stolen and then sold on the streets. A few health systems using these tools already have seen a reduction in local opioid-related deaths, although that could be from many factors besides efforts to drop prescription rates.
The opioid epidemic is an immense problem both here in the U.S. and abroad. But that doesn't make it insurmountable—as recent progress proves. We believe technology can help overcome the ongoing challenges. We encourage the healthcare community and anyone interested in solutions to the opioid crisis to read the CHIME Opioid Task Force Playbook, which includes best practices and real-world examples. One chapter is devoted to dashboards, but there are several important steps that need to occur before and after building a dashboard that contribute to success. The playbook walks readers through the pillars of an opioid initiative, from creating an opioid stewardship committee to community outreach. The Opioid Task Force also offers ongoing and archived educational webinars.