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Texas hospitals adapt existing technology to tackle opioid crisis

January 8, 2019

Adapting existing technology, the Texas Hospital Association is helping health care providers fight the state’s opioid epidemic through giving them better information when they need it.

More than 85 percent of acute-care hospitals and health care systems in Texas are members in THA. In 2018, some members began using a Smart Ribbon technology to provide physicians with just-in-time information when they are treating patients.

“Essentially, when a physician is in an encounter, it’s an episode-context aware and patient-context aware tool,” said Dr. Fernando Martinez, senior vice president and chief digital officer with the Texas Hospital Association. “This software tool pops up a ribbon that provides information to the provider about the patient around utilization, around cost, around a number of different physiometric values and things like that that are germane to treating the patient.”

Dr. S. Nicholas Desai is the enterprise chief medical officer with Houston Methodist and a foot and ankle surgeon with Houston Methodist Podiatry Associates. He explained the Smart Ribbon technology further.

“It’s like a Google Toolbar, providing an efficient shortcut to the information needed in real-time like: what labs has the patient had? What medications have they been on? What tests have been ordered? Instead of looking all over for this information, it synchronizes it in one easy place,” Desai said.

Martinez said the ribbon technology was a joint effort with IllumiCare and started coming together about six months ago. He said it was really using what was already there in a new fashion so that physicians would not have to exit their electronic medical records (EMR) when treating patients.

THA hospitals are also using Collective Medical Technologies to recognize opioid-seeking habits.According to THA, about 130 hospitals in Texas are now using the technologies to teach patients about misusing opioids.

“With the Smart Ribbon, I can now see easily without having to go to the PDMP [prescription drug monitoring programs] site that Patient X was prescribed 14 pain pills two days ago at another hospital, so now I will only prescribe an additional six pills instead of prescribing a full order again,” Desai said. “This will help in alleviating the overprescribing of opioids that is surpassing norms.”

Martinez said the initiative is all about creating more efficiency and is already improving care for Texas patients surrounding a pressing national issue.

“I think it’s very impactful because first of all we know that the epidemic around opioids has gotten a great deal of attention both at state legislative levels and the federal legislative levels,” Martinez said. “It’s a big priority for the presidency. It’s a big priority for a number of governmental and private-sector health care organizations, and so everybody’s trying to tackle the problem.”

Physicians find the new tools to be very helpful, Martinez said.

“The fact that while they’re in the process of taking care of patients without leaving the workflow, taking care of the patient, when their patients [need] pain management or some other related clinical protocol warrants these opioids, they’re in a much better, informed position with the patient in terms of their history of their use with opioids,” he said.

Desai said he has seen firsthand how the new Smart Ribbon technology is improving care Houston Methodist patients through reducing repeated exams and tests, bringing down costs, creating better communication and lessening prescriptions for narcotics.

Martinez said using existing technology to address the opioid epidemic is a simple but efficient way to provide better care.

“It’s elegant not only because of its effectiveness: it’s elegant because of its simplicity,” he said.

tracy.maness@hcnonline.com

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