As vendors target opioid crisis, familiar tech hurdles slow them down

Interoperability and workflow norms stand in the way, but convincing insurers the tech is worth the extra price tag can be the biggest obstacle.
By Jessica Davis
01:47 PM
opioid treatment pharmacist technology

While much the tech on the market to help healthcare tackle the opioid crisis has proven results, there are still some major hurdles to overcome before vendors can expect a major impact. Specifically, the issues surround technology, culture, education, policy, cost and insurers.

“Technology can be a separator,” said Imprivata Chief Medical Officer Sean Kelly. “Bad technology can make the problem worse, while good tech can improve the workflow.”

[Also: Meet the health IT vendors working to end the opioid crisis]

For example, if places are using technology that’s not directly connected to the EHR, the prescriber would have to go out of their usual practice, he said. And the other platform may not have a lot of the safety features of the existing workflow.

Interoperability is another common issue, as disparate systems can’t communicate, which breaks down data in the workflow, Kelly said. “It’s not just for convenience, but also from a safety standpoint.”

While the technology challenges are improving  -- early on the biggest problem was streamlining the process -- Kelly said the issue now lies with culture change.

“Providers are used to the current system, but it’s an antiquated workflow,” said Kelly. “It can be difficult to change workflows to meet needs. But the flipside of that is that it’s an opportunity to rethink the technology.”

[Also: Lahey Health hits Stage 7 EMRAM level from HIMSS Analytics]

Much of the technology on the market is geared towards opioid prescription management.

Paul Uhrig, chief administrative officer at Surescripts, believes that if the industry can change its workflows to meet the needs of an ID proofing and two-factor authentication, it would be easier to leverage the technology. And through education, key members will begin to really leverage the capabilities of some of these technologies.

“What we’ve found is a lot of prescribers don’t realize that the technology [like Surescripts] is legal or that their EHR has the capability,” said Uhrig.

And that education needs to be a collaborative effort, said Lizzy Feliciano, senior director of marketing for LexisNexis Health Care Solutions. Key members in the industry must have real dialogue and understand what each brings to the table.

“We all need to be working to collaborate to bring this change to life quicker than we’ve been able,” said Feliciano. And there needs to be a better understanding of what’s needed to employ this type of technology.

“Even the healthcare community is far behind on its understanding of addiction,” said Leslie Dye, vice president, editor in chief of Point of Care Content at Elsevier, a data and analytics business. “Resources point to addiction as a disease, and it has to be looked at from that standpoint.”

And educational resources, like those found at Google and Elsevier, can also provide insight into available treatments, detox and recognizing addiction symptoms. To Dye, getting this information into providers’ hands can help them to make better-informed decisions.

To  SPR Therapeutics CEO Maria Bennett, the real issue with prevention lies in cost and convincing insurers the tech is worth the extra price tag. SPR’s SPRINT tech could eliminate the need for opioids for some patients. But while the device is proven to be effective and has been FDA-approved, the real issue is that insurers don’t want to pay for it.

“How can we justify the cost from a payer perspective?” said Bennett. “We need to ensure we’re publishing good data to provide to insurance companies that validate the cost of the device.”

“Opioids are cheap, and it always comes down to the money,” said Dye. “Doing therapy for six months isn’t as cheap as handing someone medication.”

That’s the biggest obstacle to overcome, said Dye. We need to be working on policies and education to demonstrate that alternative treatments cost the insurer less in the long run and is better for the patient. This could be accomplished by incentivizing providers and insurers who prescribe these alternatives.

Further, it’s time the government made the switch to treat addiction as a mental health illness, explained Dye. For example, detox is necessary to help patients get off these addictive drugs, but long-term care is equally important.

Further, administrators must also be careful not to come up with great solutions, without input from the providers who will be enacting these changes, said Dye.

Kelly notes that a lot of efforts are out there to combat this pressing issue: PR campaigns, education, mental health funding and addiction treatment -- among others.

“But these are all high-cost interventions, but most are downstream of the problem,” said Kelly. “If you can prevent overprescribing and abuse -- prior to addiction -- it can have a really strong effect. And we’ll get more bang for the buck… Prevention rather than treatment.”

Twitter: @JessieFDavis
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