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The opioid epidemic continues to grow in America. According to the National Safety Council, the chances of dying from an accidental opioid overdose are now higher than the risk of dying in an automobile accident—1 in 96 vs. 1 in 103.

Fighting a growing addiction epidemic is no easy task. Root causes are complex and multi-layered; hence, approaches to solutions are complex as well. The supply of drugs, the nature of an addictive personality and the prescribing patterns of physicians all contribute.

Moreover, because most opioids are prescription drugs such as oxycodone or Fentanyl, the healthcare system finds itself in the center of the controversy. Exchanging health information among various parties—providers, payers and others—historically has been complicated by factors such as the lack of a common lexicon, and by patient identification sometimes making it difficult to confirm that records held by multiple providers all pertain to the same patient. Moreover, patient data is inherently sensitive and subject to laws forbidding unauthorized disclosure.

Over the years, however, those problems have been reduced significantly through education and investment in electronic health records and interoperability, making information sharing much more feasible. By applying analytics tools to the shared data, analysts can identify patterns that call for further investigation.

The federal government has a long history of sharing critical health information for those who need to know, and has put foundational pieces in place to tackle the opioid crisis.

For example, the CONNECT health information-sharing platform supports the secure exchange of health information for more than 2,000 organizations across the U.S. It is an e-gov initiative lead by the Federal Health Architecture (FHA) under the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). In 2017, Federal Health IT magazine awarded Federal Health Architecture (FHA) an Innovation Award for their work with CONNECT and the state-to-state prescription exchange for tracking opioid use. This pilot, CONNECT Empowering Opioid Exchange, linked federally managed patient records with state prescription data records across 44 states.

The intent is to report the prescribing of controlled substances and to identify both the prescribers and the patients to confirm compliance, drawing on data in the PDMP. For example, if patient gets a 30-day prescription for oxycodone at an urgent care clinic in New Mexico, then six days later requests another 30-day supply at his primary health provider in Arizona, the sharing of information could alert the Arizona doctor that the patient should still have three weeks of the medication left from the first prescription.

Thankfully, progress is being made through the work HHS has been doing, along with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). The power of information sharing, combined with data analytics, has helped identify prescribing patterns of at-risk patients that enable the entire health ecosystem to curb opioid deaths and promote healthier patient outcomes.

CGI has been involved in CONNECT since 2010 and was part of the team that designed the opioid pilot program in 2017. I spoke about CONNECT and the role of information sharing in addressing the opioid epidemic at HIMSS 2019. To learn more about CGI’s role in the HHS project, read our news release, “Department of Health and Human Services Earns Recognition for Program Using CGI Solution Designed to Identify Potential Misuse of Prescription Drugs

About this author

Brad Schoffstall

Brad Schoffstall

Vice President, Health and Compliance Programs

Brad Schoffstall is a vice president in CGI Federal's Health and Compliance Programs Business Unit, where he drives innovative solutions on a range of enterprise-wide IT initiatives. Brad’s experience spans more than three decades across a diverse set of architectures, operating systems, languages, and technologies. ...

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