Primary Care

An Innovative Approach for Good Opioid Prescribing Practices

The opioid epidemic is a problem that affects all cross sections of our communities, indifferent to language, income, ethnicity or ZIP code. In response, Virginia Mason Memorial has created an innovative program that helps primary care physicians keep better track of who is receiving strong pain medications to make sure pills aren't being overprescribed to their patients.

The program, from Memorial Physicians working with the SignalHealth analytics team, enables doctors and patients to make better plans to help deal with pain. It includes protocols that seek to:

  • Reduce the number of people on long-term opioids
  • Give a shorter duration of medication for acute injuries
  • Put in place safety precautions, such as routine urine drug screening and checking the state registry

A highlight of the program is developing a web-based, chronic opioid therapy registry for primary care clinic providers, developed in cooperation with a grant from the University of Washington. The registry captures data from the electronic medical records system and allows for multiple approaches to reporting. Medical assistants are empowered to ensure good care for these patients. This approach encompasses all Memorial primary care clinic patients.

Shawnie Haas
Shawnie Haas

The results? In one year, all measures increased positively by 30 percent or more. “The registry has been in place for about a year and a half, and we’re very happy with the results so far, said Shawnie Haas, CEO, SignalHealth. “This is an important tool for helping patients manage pain and avoid addiction.”

Because some practices have been more successful than others, guidance is provided to clinics and providers that have an opportunity to improve. Pain management appointments are being scheduled based on toolkit data, and providers are having conversations with their patients about opioid use.

For this innovative approach, Virginia Mason Memorial received the 2017 Washington State Hospital Association’s Community Health Leadership Silver Award.

“We have to recognize (addiction) isn't evidence of a character flaw or a moral failing,” said U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy. “It’s a chronic disease of the brain that deserves the same compassion that any other chronic illness does, like diabetes or heart disease.”