What Role Can Health IT Play When an Epidemic Meets a Pandemic?

By David Bucciferro (Foothold Technology), co-chair of the EHRA and the Opioid Task Force, and Renee Han (Epic), Opioid Task Force member

Over the past several years, community service and health professionals have fought hard to gain ground in the battle against the opioid epidemic. From 2017 until 2020, the number of patients receiving buprenorphine, methadone, or naltrexone – common medications for opioid use disorder (MOUD) – consistently increased as more patients at risk for OUD and overdose were identified and treated, according to a report from Epic Research

First-time MOUD, buprenorphine, and naltrexone patients over time. Solid colored capsules show the last observed value. Dashed outline capsules show the predicted value for May 2020. (Source: Epic Research.)

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New Guide Offers Guidance for Digitizing Opioid Tapering Plans

By Daniel Seltzer, Co-chair of the EHRA Opioid Crisis Task Force

Care disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic and other ongoing events have put long-term opioid therapy (LTOT) patients at increased risk for opioid-related harm and heightened the urgency around addressing the opioid crisis. This has, in turn, presented a significant opportunity to leverage technology to improve certain care processes around opioid therapy, starting with digitizing the tapering plan and incorporating existing clinical practice guidelines into clinical decision support (CDS) tools. 

These are areas that have been researched extensively by EHRA’s Opioid Crisis Task Force, which was formed in 2018 to explore and recommend ways EHR technology can help solve the complex opioid crisis puzzle. This research culminated in the newly released Opioid Tapering Implementation Guide for Electronic Health Records, a set of clinical practice guidelines that can be operationalized to improve opioid stewardship and opioid tapering in clinical practice. 

EHRA’s goal with this Opioid Tapering Guide is to enable an organization’s health IT team to implement tapering best practices more rapidly using EHR-based CDS tools. The EHR developer community can also use it to steer the future development of new or updated products and services that can help hospitals, physician practices and other care environments implement these and other best practices. 

In developing the guide, the Task Force leveraged evidence-based guidelines on opioid tapering published by several organizations and agencies with subject matter expertise, including clinical recommendations from the United States CDC, VA/DOD, and HHS. These referenced guidelines include tapering plans for pain lasting longer than three months or past the normal tissue healing time frame, outside of active cancer treatment and palliative or end-of-life care. 

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