Safer Opioid Prescribing
The Health and Human Services Department is advocating a national health IT system, safe opioid prescribing guidelines and the elimination of data blocking.

In order to combat opioid overdose, the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently praised efforts by the American College of Physicians (ACP) to better educate doctors about safe prescribing guidelines.

HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell, addressing the ACP’s Internal Medicine Meeting at the CME Medical Conference 2016 in Washington, D.C., said opioid overdose is a critical issue, particularly in places like her home state, West Virginia.

Opioid Statistics

Opioids, which include prescription drugs – such as Tramadol, Oxycodone and Methadone – and heroin, act on opioid receptors and produce morphine-like effects to help relieve chronic pain. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), opioids were identified in 28,647 deaths in 2014, with West Virginia being one of five states with the highest rates of drug death due to overdose.

Burwell praised the ACP for providing free online educational courses in an effort to educate physicians about safe prescribing guidelines and training.

The CDC, in its Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain, offers recommendations for primary care providers in prescribing opioids to patients 18 years and older as it relates to treating chronic pain outside of cancer treatment, palliative care and end-of-life care.


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Electronic Health Records and Data Blocking

During her remarks to the ACP, Secretary Burwell reiterated that her department is dedicated to developing a more open, better-connected health information system that dictates better sharing of vital health records and information, both with patients and between medical providers.

HHS, Burwell said, is working on multiple fronts to ensure that “doctors and hospitals understand that patients have a right to their records, data blocking is not tolerated and providers share data with others caring for their patients.”

Data blocking is the practice of intentionally interfering with the exchange of electronic health information. This can occur when an electronic health record vendor charges an exorbitant fee to allow hospitals, providers and other entities to interface and share patient medical data.

In April 2015, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology drafted a report to Congress stating that despite the federal government spending more than $28 billion to develop and expedite a national health IT system, many individuals and companies were still unreasonably limiting the availability and use of electronic health records, often for profit.

The report concluded “a key finding…is that many types of information blocking are beyond the reach of current federal law and programs to address,” and suggested that federal lawmakers likely would have to intervene.

By eliminating data blocking, Burwell said health IT systems can interact and communicate seamlessly through incorporation of common standards, which also is referred to as interoperability.

The U.S. healthcare industry has, in the past six years, tripled its adoption of electronic health records, but many states still lag behind the initiative, according to a May report in Healthcare IT News.

In March, a number of electronic health records vendors signed a pledge to not block data and support standardized application program interfaces, or APIs, to facilitate better information sharing.

“Better use of data moves our whole system forward,” Burwell told meeting attendees, adding that such efforts help doctors make better, more informed care decisions and allow patients to actively engage in their own health treatment.

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