Health IT’s Role in Combatting the Opioid Overdose Epidemic

While the COVID-19 pandemic has been at the forefront of medical and public concern for the past year and a half, the opioid overdose epidemic has continued to quietly take its toll in the United States. In the twelve months leading up to April 2021, over 100,000 people died from a drug overdose with more than 75% of those involving opioids, according to provisional data from the National Center for Health Statistics.

Preventing overdose deaths is just one part of solving the larger opioid crisis in the U.S., but it is a critical one. It may not be intuitive that health information technology (health IT) can play a role in opioid overdose prevention or help to combat the opioid crisis; however, drawing on any resources that are readily available, such as health data that is maintained by health information exchanges (HIEs) and lives within electronic health records (EHR), is key to gathering more information about the problem and helping people who may be at risk.

Leveraging Health Information Data to Identify Patients At-Risk for Opioid Overdose

Healthcare providers teaming with health IT companies can play a key role in opioid overdose prevention by identifying high-risk patients. In the same way that HIE or EHR data can be used to identify patients with health conditions like epilepsy or diabetes and provide insights when there is a health event, these same health information resources can help identify those who may be at risk for an opioid overdose. This can be done using information that is already stored in a patient’s electronic medical records.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the following are some examples of criteria that put a person as higher risk of opioid overdose:

  • Patients with sleep-disordered breathing or chronic lung diseases
  • Patients who are pregnant
  • Patients with renal or hepatic insufficiency
  • Patients aged 65 years or older
  • Patients with mental health conditions
  • Patients with a substance use disorder
  • Patients with a prior nonfatal overdose

Healthcare providers can utilize health IT data to identify patients who meet any of the criteria of an opioid overdose risk. This is what a public-private partnership in Staten Island aims to accomplish with their recently announced program, “Hotspotting the Opioid Crisis.” The Staten Island University Hospital (SIUH) and the Staten Island Performing Provider System (SI PPS) are working together with private donors on predictive analytic programming using health data from over 70 providers to identify patients at risk for an opioid overdose. The goal is to prevent opioid overdose deaths using artificial intelligence to identify patients who are high risk and provide services to individuals across the spectrum of severity based on what stage they are at and what services could be the most beneficial. Services could include peer-led recovery outreach, behavioral health services, housing or employment support, or the help of a primary care provider (PCP). The program is an example of how cities and states are beginning to look to technology take a more targeted approach to the opioid crisis.

How ADT Alerts Can Address the Crisis and Support Opioid Overdose Prevention

Once patients are identified as high risk, health IT can offer another layer of intelligence to healthcare providers to support these patients and work to prevent an overdose, using admission, discharge, and transfer (ADT) alerts. ADT alerts can notify a patient’s care team when the patient experiences a health event that includes an admission to a hospital or inpatient treatment facility, along with notifications for when they are discharged or transferred to another facility. This gives a patient’s care team the opportunity to conduct real-time outreach to check in before a potential opioid overdose could occur.

For example, if a patient with a history of a substance use disorder is listed as high-risk for overdose, their PCP or care team can sign up to receive ADT notifications when that patient is admitted to the hospital. After receiving an alert, someone from the care team can follow up to learn more about the nature of their hospital admission and what their aftercare plan is to find out if an opioid prescription is involved for pain management. Depending on the admission reason and the aftercare plan, the patient’s care team can take precautionary measures to provide ongoing outreach during the recovery period. If an opioid has been prescribed to someone who is at risk, their PCP can offer educational materials about the risks associated with opioid pain medications and signs of an overdose.

Many states across the U.S. are leveraging health IT to tackle the issue and have implemented ADT alerts for patients identified as higher risk for an opioid overdose. In Tennessee, the opioid epidemic has been a central focus for healthcare providers, with the latest data showing a 15% increase in opioid-related overdose deaths between 2018 and 2019. In response, the Tennessee Hospital Association Health (THA) has been utilizing ADT notifications to address the statewide opioid overdose problem. Working with Audacious Inquiry, THA has set up a program for participating healthcare providers to receive targeted alerts when a patient with a history of an opioid use disorder or a previous opioid overdose-related event is admitted to the hospital. Using that information, the healthcare provider who is treating the patient can take action to set up appropriate care coordination or to develop a treatment plan that takes their history with opioids into account.

Not only can ADT alerts help individual patients who are at risk for an opioid overdose, that data about opioid-related health incidents holds value for tracking population-wide health trends. ADT data that feeds into local, statewide, or national HIEs offers real-time insight into what areas are seeing spikes in opioid-related hospital admissions and overdoses. That data can show emerging patterns and hotspots, which can help governments and healthcare providers know where to allocate more resources or health monitoring support.

A problem as complex as the opioid overdose epidemic cannot be addressed quickly or simply, but each effort to target the issue from every possible angle can help with opioid overdose prevention and save lives. Health IT is just one way to approach the opioid crisis. By drawing on readily available data to identify those at risk and implementing ADT alerts for any opioid-related incidents, healthcare providers are better able to offer coordinated care while also helping public health agencies and state governments gainer a clearer understanding of the public health situation they must address. Technology may not be the only answer to the problem, but it is one that can be implemented quickly and effectively to fight against the opioid overdose epidemic that has been overwhelming the U.S. for over a decade.

Audacious Inquiry can partner with providers, HIEs, and state governments to implement tech solutions to address public health crises like the opioid overdose epidemic. Contact us for more information on our solutions that leverage health data for care coordination and improved quality of care like Encounter Notification Service® (ENS®) or Proactive Management of Patient Transitions® (PROMPT®).

About the Author

DIana Bauza About The Author


Diana Bauza is a content writer based in the Greater Philadelphia area. She writes about products and services in the health and technology industries, with the goal of empowering consumers with quality information to help them make decisions that best serve their needs.