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Healthcare leaders must step up to fix the opioid epidemic


Healthcare executives have a unique leadership role to play in addressing the opioid crisis. Here’s what you need to do now.

Finally, there is broad public recognition and a nationwide call to action to fix the deadly opioid epidemic.

Matters surrounding it are complex and expand outside of healthcare to several socioeconomic issues, and many sectors of our society need to come together to address the root causes. However, healthcare leaders have a unique leadership role to play, and we must consider the following questions:

1. How can we mobilize to move full speed ahead?

2. What are the best combinations of programs that will save lives across the 50 states?

Full speed ahead

Every part of our healthcare system is essential and needs to be enlisted. As managed healthcare leaders, we are perfectly positioned to move quickly, continuing to wave the “opioid red alert” for providers and communities.

Simultaneously, working through our networks, we can update and highlight the mix of tested programs that are emerging and that are most effective. Indeed, this is a perfect opportunity for all sectors within healthcare (physicians, pharmacists, health plans, hospitals, etc.) to come together for this common cause with which everyone can align.

With healthcare leaders showing the way, there’s an opportunity to make a dramatic impact and significantly diminish opioid misuse. 

Which way to the best way(s)?

This epidemic is too widespread and too complicated for any one solution. I want to hear about what may be working elsewhere around our country.

Here in California at Health Plan of San Joaquin (HPSJ), with our local partners and underwriting help from the California Health Care Foundation (CHCF), we are deep into an 18-month pilot project to assess gaps in opioid-related local care and training.

For example, rigorous reviews of prescription patterns revealed that several changes to prescription automated processing edits could have immediate, positive impacts. Our local opioids pilot partnership, with San Joaquin General Hospital, Community Medical Centers and San Joaquin County Behavioral Health Services, is benefiting from the knowledge of national experts brought to us by CHCF. Medical and behavioral health teams within our community are delivering intense care to HPSJ patients touched by opioids through education, data sharing, and appropriate, clear communication.

All partners meet regularly to share what’s working and where challenges remain. When ready to scale-up region-wide in 2018, we’ll be confident our programs will be most effective for the communities we serve. Further, we’ll be able to contribute to the statewide and national repositories of tested solutions.  

To further broaden our coalition, HPSJ’s chief medical officer recently convened with Northern California hospital CEOs. While briefing them on our local pilot project, she let each know of their critical role in this important initiative. From participating in local opioid safety coalitions, to pain management strategies such as Safe Opioid Prescribing with training for physicians and other providers, to community education, we’re letting hospital leaders know the precise ways they can make measurable headway on this crisis.  

Like you, I want to be able to look back at the year 2018 and say that we acted with fierce urgency, deploying energetic and positive actions, to save lives, to save families, and to save communities. We won’t fix this overnight, but we can lead the way to collaborative, multifaceted solutions, as quickly as possible.

Amy Shin is a Managed Healthcare Executive editorial advisor and the CEO of Health Plan of San Joaquin, a not-for-profit plan serving 350,000 Medicaid members in San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties of California. Shin has 20 years of progressive Medicare, Medicaid, and commercial managed care leadership experience.  

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