The current opioid epidemic is a crisis years in the making that causes difficulty in many aspects of life for addicts, their family and friends, and yes, even their healthcare providers.

It’s no wonder that the current opioid epidemic has been deemed the deadliest drug crisis in American history. Opioid overdoses are the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50. Between 2000 and 2015, nearly half-a-million Americans died from overdoses, most of them opioid-related. More than 64,000 people in 2016 alone died from opioid use, more than gun violence or car accidents – and it’s killing people faster than the HIV outbreak did at its peak.

A variety of factors have contributed to the growing epidemic. Most agree that this modern crisis began in the 1990s when the medical field began treating pain as an independent entity, managing the immediate pain versus treating the underlying condition. The pharmaceutical industry also jumped on the bandwagon, heavily pushing painkilling drugs to doctors that they claimed were not addictive – which has proved to be untrue.

With this approach, prescriptions of opioids dramatically increased between 1999 and 2009, peaking in 2010. Although there was a widespread acknowledgment that opioid use and addiction jumped significantly, no deterrents were implemented to reduce the distribution of prescription opioids.

Since then, the opioid addiction rate has skyrocketed by 500 percent. More people continue to become addicted, but curtailing the problem has been increasingly difficult.

Although there has been more attention given to the opioid crisis over the last few years, it’s still wreaking havoc in our nation. More than 90 Americans die of opioid-related illnesses every single day – a 20 percent increase in recent years – in addition to opioid-related increases in HIV, Hepatitis, STDs and other illnesses.

While these numbers are outrageous and shocking, healthcare providers have a key role to play in fighting the epidemic, and their weapon of choice should be technology.

Healthcare providers and their healthcare IT partners have the potential to support recovery efforts and influence the trajectory of the epidemic. Connectivity and the electronic sharing of patient health records – better known as interoperability – can make a world of difference. Simply providing clinicians and care team members with a look into a patient’s complete health history and current treatment across all areas of care, provides them with a whole-picture view so they can adequately address an individual’s needs.

EHRs can facilitate the secure and seamless exchange of vital health information between multiple providers and different organizations across the care continuum. While at one time acute providers could only see what a patient experienced in that setting, these gaps are now being bridged. Providers who implement an EHR have the ability to access information from other venues of care that may not have been considered in care decisions before such as behavioral health, post-acute care and even social service providers and law enforcement.

Think about what a clinician may need to consider when treating an individual with an opioid addiction. Does the patient have a history of mental illness? Chronic pain? Where was the patient treated in the past? Has the individual been part of the justice system? What care have they received? Physical or mental health care? What prescriptions were they given? What is their current living situation? Do they have social supports and access to care?

Information like this gives those who deliver care a head start in determining the best plan of action while avoiding duplicate prescriptions and procedures and eliminating the need to go on a scavenger hunt for faxed or incomplete paper records from other providers.

Can you imagine the time and effort it would take to approach this from a paper-based system while making sure important information hasn’t been omitted or lost? It would be tedious with one provider, let alone multiple providers across care settings. This is why an EHR is essential, particularly in a situation where a relapse or overdose occurs and time is of the essence.

The ability to connect to a multitude of care settings through established networks has proven beneficial, particularly as the industry makes a shift to value-based care. Facilities are held to a higher standard of care, ensuring that a patient is transferred to the right level of acuity, at the right time, while preventing re-admissions for the same episode, ultimately leading to the best possible outcome for the individual. The better the outcomes, the higher the payments. These goals play an important role in an organization’s bottom line. Those who miss the mark are potentially losing out on millions of dollars annually.

While sharing clinical content is critical, it is also only part of the battle. Engaging with consumers is a factor that is increasing in prevalence and is a priority of organizations who implement successful strategies to combat addiction. Consumer engagement and interoperability can be married to give those with addiction more say in their care. Leveraging a technology vehicle to communicate with a person via a telehealth virtual session will allow for appropriate services to be linked to a person on-demand and at the point of need.

Does your organization have the tools on hand to put the information you need right at your fingertips? Evaluate what you currently have in place. Do you have an EHR solution to facilitate interoperability? Does it connect with other providers in your area? Across all arenas of care? Does it come with robust reporting capabilities? What about linking with initiatives such as a state’s controlled substance registry, the department of corrections or health information exchanges? How much data does it truly leverage?

Those who attend the HIMSS Interoperability ShowcaseTM are given the opportunity to watch how the complex pieces of the healthcare puzzle fit together. We are eager to demonstrate how connectivity and interoperability are essential to an organization’s success as well as show how having a clear view of a patient can help determine their best treatment path.

When you stop by and see us at the HIMSS Interoperability Showcase, you’ll be able to see firsthand how Netsmart collaborates with other partners and providers to achieve whole-person care for those who are suffering from opioid addiction. Through the electronic exchange of referrals, as well as connections to state prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP) registries and departments of corrections, we can ensure that the appropriate services are delivered to individuals in order to keep them on a positive path to recovery, regardless of where they may be receiving treatment. We invite you to join us.

Interoperability is no longer something that organizations should “get around to” – it is essential for organizations to be able to connect now with other providers and partners across the entirety of healthcare to truly treat addiction, or any health condition for that matter. Additionally, the ability to engage with a person outside of the four walls is becoming essential to supporting a person at any time and enables a person to self-direct their care. The main objective is to provide clinical content to providers throughout the healthcare continuum so they can make proactive decisions and deliver the right kind of care in all types of settings.

Visit the Netsmart booth at 1917 at #HIMSS18 and find out how we’re connecting addiction treatment, behavioral health, home care and senior living to the rest of healthcare.