Guest Column | April 26, 2019

Why HIT Is Important For Fighting The Opioid Crisis

By Kayla Matthews, Productivity Bytes


The opioid crisis is a widespread problem in the United States and elsewhere. However, HIT is helping us make strides toward conquering it. HIT involves the electronic systems healthcare providers and patients use to store medical information.

Here are four ways that HIT contributes to the reduction of the opioid crisis.

1. It Could Help Predict Reactions To Treatment

Medical practitioners who work with substance-dependent patients have a growing number of options for helping those individuals achieve sobriety. One frequently used option is opioid agonist treatment (OAT). An agonist is a drug which activates certain receptors in the brain. When someone receives an agonist opioid drug, they feel the opioid effect.

Methadone is one of the most popular OATs, and it's a relatively safe alternative to street-obtained opioids because the drug has a slower onset and longer duration compared to heroin. It also does not give people sensations of euphoria or intoxication, allowing them to get similar brain effects to taking heroin, for example, while learning how to lead a healthier life.

Although OATs are frequently beneficial for people struggling with opioid addictions, adverse reactions can sometimes occur. Additionally, certain kinds of OAT drugs work better than others for individuals with particular types of dependencies.

HIT helps analyze data and more accurately assess how people will respond to treatment. One study looked at data collected from opioid-addicted patients across more than 15 years to determine the risk factors such as mortality, overdoses and emergency room admissions and which people are most likely to experience those effects.

Another study dug into data to find out which agonists worked best for maintenance when helping people stay sober. Research like the possibilities presented here is possible thanks to HIT. It lets providers make more confident decisions about treatment options for patients and find the ones that are maximally effective for their needs.

2. It Helps Providers Keep Better Records On Known Or Potential Opioid Addicts

It's impossible to trace the opioid addiction back to a single root cause. However, experts know that overprescribing is one of the issues that exacerbate it. Before the days of electronic health records (EHRs), opioid addicts often visited all the doctors in their communities or the surrounding areas, presented complaints of pain and received prescriptions for the opiates they craved.

This problem has not entirely gone away, but it's improving thanks to EHRs and HIT tech. Statistics show that between 2012 and 2014, the number of people receiving prescriptions for controlled substances in the state of Washington fell by 25 percent. EHR platforms enable providers to keep track of when and where patients receive prescribed drugs. Options exist specifically for facilities dealing with substance abuse, too.

When providers have centralized and accessible ways of keeping electronic health records, they're better able to manage the care of those struggling with opioid addictions. Many of the platforms also work on mobile devices, allowing medical professionals to quickly make updates and maintain current information.

EHRs give providers at medical facilities valuable transparency that allows them to keep tabs on a patient's care and ensure things don't happen that could exacerbate a patient's addiction. For example, a person recovering from opioid addiction has to be more careful than the general public about taking painkillers following procedures and may choose not to consume them at all to avoid relapses.

Researchers also developed a machine learning algorithm that studied medical records to analyze the likelihood of a person becoming dependent on opioids later. Then, when patients show above-average risk factors, physicians can adjust their treatment plans to minimize the chances of addiction taking hold.

3. It Helps Patients And Providers Stay More Connected

Besides offering advantages to providers as they make care-related decisions about patients, HIT gives tools to patients who want to track the stages of their recoveries from opioid addiction. One of the challenges that professionals face while guiding people through recovery is that they're absent except for the relatively short and infrequent face-to-face appointments.

Even in a case where an addict sees a member of a care team for an hour a day, there are still 23 hours left in the day where people will inevitably encounter triggers that urge them to use again. However, apps exist that allow people to share personal health information (PHI) with addiction counselors or other professionals, allowing those people to stay informed outside of office visits.

One of them is ResQ. It works by analyzing factors like risk tolerance level, loneliness and craving intensity, and aims to gauge a person's likelihood of relapsing during opioid addiction recovery. When a user shares their daily statistics with friends, family members or health professionals, those people can intervene to help a person stay on track for success.

4. It Facilitates Improved Care Coordination

As anyone who delivers care to opioid addicts (or received it themselves) knows well, treatment rarely comes from one person or organization. Instead, multiple entities work together to meet a patient's needs as they evolve during treatment. Coordinated care promotes opioid recovery by reducing repetitive actions and keeping each party informed about a person's progress.

Confidentiality is of paramount importance in healthcare, but in some instances, providers can share data and still maintain privacy. Then, treatment becomes more streamlined because each party has the information they need, and they don't have to waste time contacting external organizations to request information.

HIT Is Instrumental In Fighting The Opioid Crisis

This list shows some of the ways that HIT applications could stimulate positive changes in the opioid crisis. Making improvements is crucial, since the issue causes tens of thousands of deaths annually and results in heartbreaking situations for surviving addicts and their loved ones.

When medical professionals rely on HIT to help, they could notice welcome enhancements that lead to better outcomes for everyone involved.

About The Author

Kayla Matthews is a MedTech writer whose work has appeared on HIT Consultant, Medical Economics and HITECH Answers, among other industry publications. To read more from Kayla, please connect with her on LinkedIn, or visit her personal tech blog at