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Patient-Provider Communication, Education Key for Opioid Prescribing

A recent MGMA report noted that meaningful patient-provider communication and patient education can help reduce the effects of the opioid crisis.

patient-provider communication

Source: Thinkstock

By Sara Heath

- Open patient-provider communication is essential for providers looking to combat the opioid crisis, according to a recent report from the Medical Group Management Association.

The report, Combatting the Opioid Epidemic: Effective Policies and Communication Strategies – An MGMA Research & Analysis report, revealed three key elements to managing the opioid crisis. Chief among them was clear communication strategies between patient and provider, as well as different provider stakeholders.

Specifically, patients and providers must have meaningful communication in order to determine the best treatment protocol for patient needs. Patients experiencing pain may not always benefit from an opioid-based treatment and instead should be directed to non-opioid interventions.

Clear patient-provider communication, patient trust, and patient education are essential in these cases, according to the report.

In cases that opioid treatments are most effective, providers must lean on considerable patient education to ensure the opioid is used responsibly. Prescription opioid use is a known gateway into drug misuse for some patients, research has shown.

About 80 percent of heroin users began their drug misuse with a legally prescribed opioid, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association (SAMHSA). Between 21 and 28 percent of people prescribed an opioid for chronic pain end up misusing their drugs.

It is essential that medical providers and other healthcare stakeholders use proper patient education techniques to ensure patients are using their opioid correctly, can self-identify the warning signs of addiction, and dispose of opioid treatments correctly when they are no longer in use, the report noted.

Ultimately, patient-provider communication strategies – when used alongside health technology to track patients who have already receive opioid prescriptions and targeted patient referral management – will work to tackle the opioid epidemic on the healthcare frontlines, according to MGMA president and CEO Halee Fischer-Wright, MD.

“The opioid epidemic has become an unprecedented crisis in the United States and, as such, Americans need to come together to develop comprehensive solutions — at all levels,” Fischer-Wright said in a statement. “By arming practice leaders and healthcare providers with this information, we’re hopeful that they can be even more effective in fighting this epidemic at one of the most critical junctures: the point of care.”

Currently, patient education is one of the top strategies for combatting the opioid crisis, according to a separate MGMA Stat Poll conducted in November, 2017. Of the nearly 1,000 organizations surveyed, a total of 61 percent said they use patient education to counter potential opioid misuse.

Those organizations primarily lean on in-person patient-provider communication and written patient education materials to inform patients about correct narcotic usage and disposal.

Some providers are even developing patient agreements or “contracts” to guide patients in the use of a narcotic medication, MGMA reported. These agreements emphasize the patient’s commitment to using and disposing of the narcotic in a responsible manner.

Only 12 percent of organizations said they do not conduct patient education when prescribing opioids, the MGMA poll showed. Twenty-seven percent of organizations said they do not currently prescribe narcotic medications.

Separate research has indicated that pairing opioid prescribing with patient education about use and disposal has been effective. A 2018 article published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons found that patient education about opioid disposal increased the number of patients correctly disposing of opioids by 22 percent.

Patients who receive a narcotic painkiller are often prescribed more pills than they end up needing, the study authors explained, leaving the door open for misuse of the leftover medications. Accurate disposal of leftover opioids is necessary to ensure opioid diversion does not occur.

A patient education brochure issued to patients with the prescribed opioid reviewed FDA-approved opioid disposal recommendations. Following brochure distribution, the researchers saw modest increases in the number of patient self-reporting that they got rid of their pills correctly.

However, there are more advances yet to be made, the researchers said. Brochure should be simpler, shorter, and easier to read. Those fixes could increase the likelihood that patients actually read the document and can remember the information the brochure contained.

Information about correct opioid disposal is just one area in which patient-provider communication and patient education should accompany opioid prescription. Providers and patients must also discuss dosage, side effects, and warning signs that the patient may become addicted to the pill.

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