Technology’s Role in Substance Use Disorder Treatment Amid Regulatory Changes

Understanding the Current State of the Opioid Epidemic 

The United States has seen an unfortunate increase in the number of drug overdoses over the last two decades, and numbers are only continuing to grow, highlighting the need for better understanding of drug addiction and treatment. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that from 2020 to 2021 there was a 16% increase in drug overdose deaths, with 107,000 deaths from opioid use in 2021 alone.1 With such high rates of drug misuse and overdoses, it’s important that healthcare providers are adequately trained and well equipped to offer the best care possible to patients to try bringing that number back down while legislation tackles curbing easy access to misused medications.  

The CDC’s numbers highlight a growing need for more focus on treating substance use disorders (SUD), assisting with recovery services, and preventing further substance misuse.  

Coming out of the 2020 pandemic, the healthcare space has changed dramatically, and telehealth solutions have become increasingly more common and more requested by patients. In some cases, telehealth is the only way certain patients can access the services they need—which can be due to the distance between their home and provider, lack of transportation, or lack of physical ability to visit an office. By offering telehealth services, practices can reach more patients who might otherwise not be able to receive treatment. With this growing opioid epidemic, it’s more important than ever to offer telehealth solutions to these SUD patients. 

Qualifacts has been working for over 20 years to bring providers the best electronic health record systems (EHRs) to make jobs easier, more efficient, and offer more insights into their data. With EHRs suited for all types of offices, including SUD and Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics (CCBHCs), coupled with telehealth solutions, Qualifacts helps providers in all aspects of their practices. Our staff has a passion for healthcare, and many of our team members come from healthcare-based roles which allows us to leverage their experience working in providers’ offices by better understanding how EHR tools are used in the field. We also have staff members who have seen firsthand how SUD can lead to unfortunate outcomes. This makes designing tools for SUD services personal for us, and it drives our team to design our EHRs to be the best tools possible in hopes that more patients can be better treated by their providers.  


Navigating Regulatory Shifts in Mental Health Care 

Regulations are always being updated and changed as legislators and ruling bodies work to adapt to new information and a changing healthcare space, so it’s important for healthcare practitioners to keep up to date with changes in regulations.  

SAMHSA has recently updated its regulations to make one of its COVID-era policies permanent that gives flexibility to providers prescribing unsupervised methadone and initiation of buprenorphine through telehealth. 

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has also updated its regulations surrounding telehealth services for opioid treatment programs (OTPs). One such update allows the use of audio-only telecommunications when providing assessments if video is unavailable, giving those who use Medicare more flexibility when it comes to receiving treatment. 

When patients struggle to visit their providers, it makes it more likely that they might slip to the side and fail to get necessary treatments. Changes like these make it easier for providers to offer the best possible treatment for those suffering from substance abuse, helping to better treat patients and to help prevent them from becoming SUD patients in the first place through diligent care. 


Tackling the Opioid Epidemic with Innovative Healthcare Technology 

One of the best tools at a provider’s disposal is technology; it can give them better insights into the health of their patients, make charting easier, offer better ways to get through to patients, and much more. And with substance use disorders growing in recent years, now is the right time for providers to invest in better technology. Thankfully, we are in a technological boom with growing options that all seek to aid providers in doing their job. 

Growing telehealth tools and options for providers help break down barriers for patients that would otherwise prevent them from seeking treatment, and it allows providers to expand their practice and meet the increasing OTP demand. And with growing interoperability with different technologies, it’s only getting easier for all healthcare providers to provide various elements of treatment and ensure everyone involved in a patient’s care is up to date with the treatment plan.  

While the right technological tools can allow providers to offer top-level treatment for SUD patients, perhaps even more paramount is being able to prevent more people from falling into opioid addiction in the first place. Many SUD patients addicted to opioids find multiple doctors and use multiple pharmacies to pick up multiple prescriptions for the same or similar drug without any healthcare or pharmacy staff realizing what’s happening. One Qualifacts employee described how a relative used at least four different pharmacies to acquire different prescriptions, and there had been no way for any of the patient’s doctors to know that multiple controlled substances had been prescribed to the same patient.  

Just like in many similar cases, if providers had better communication with one another through technology, this patient’s providers could have noticed that too many opioid prescriptions were coming from several doctors. Outdated technology doesn’t offer smooth exchanges of information that could otherwise have notified providers of concerning doctor-shopping habits, but with the technological advances we’re seeing today, it’s only getting easier to catch these patients.  

Leveraging Data and Analytics for Informed Treatment Decisions 

Through the power of connected technology, prescribers can easily cross-check the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) to ensure that a patient has no other prescriptions for controlled substances. This can make it much harder for those trying to acquire various duplicate prescriptions to gain access to a dangerous number of opioids or other controlled substances. There are some cases in which patients might not realize their different doctors are prescribing duplicate or similar medications if those providers are using different EHR systems and the patient doesn’t provide an accurate list of up-to-date prescriptions. So it’s important for technology to help fill gaps left by simple ignorance.  

EHR systems like those offered by Qualifacts can automatically check the PDMP database to notify providers of other medications the patient has been prescribed. This can help indicate if a patient is at high risk of doctor and prescription shopping to get their hands on more controlled substances. Not every state currently mandates the use of the PDMP, but every provider should advocate for its use in order to better protect their patients and make it harder for addictions to start or continue. 

Access to detailed levels of data is vital, especially for SUD practices. Through data-driven insights about the health of their patients, providers can offer care more tailored to an individual’s needs. They can better track a patient’s treatment plan and thus better optimize their care with time. By comparing patient data with national data and statistics right within the EHR, understanding what options each patient has can be much more efficient, saving providers time and helping them offer treatment methods better suited to their patient’s unique situation. 

EHR systems can also allow for better communication between providers, letting each person involved in a patient’s treatment to easily access all information required for treatment without details or data getting lost through messy file transfers between different systems or from human error.  

Looking Ahead: Qualifacts’ Commitment to Advancing Substance Use Disorder Treatment 

Qualifacts continues to create and support our innovative technologies that allow providers to better serve their patient populations. We remain in contact with all our customers well after implementation to ensure any problems they’re facing with our system are resolved in an effective and timely manner. We know how important it is for providers to do their jobs unimpeded by clunky technology or errors, that’s why we always put our customers first when creating and adapting all our platforms. 

It’s imperative that your EHR offers smooth interoperability and allows providers to easily see a patient’s full medical history from other providers and facilities. With proper communication between technologies, providers, and facilities, treatment plans become even more successful for patients. And when you add telehealth options into the mix, you can better reach patients. 

Our EHR platforms were created with SUD providers specifically in mind so healthcare professionals can more effectively care for those affected by the ongoing opioid epidemic and even expand their services to reach more members of their community and expand their practice.