With little or no formal training in opioid use disorder, more and more emergency physicians are being asked to play the roles of internist, psychologist and social worker for a complicated and vulnerable patient population.
It’s the result of hospitals and providers across the country struggling to cope with the enormity of the opioid overdose epidemic and its consequences, leaving emergency physicians on the front lines of a battle they’re often ill equipped to fight.
Aetna is working to close that knowledge gap and improve patient outcomes by teaming with leaders from the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to create a series of brief online educational videos depicting opioid overdose scenarios.
With overdose ED visits up 30 percent last year and the trend shows no signs of slowing, the help is needed.
“Sometimes, ER physicians think that treating substance use disorders is not their job, but like any life-threatening illness, we have a responsibility to get patients into the right treatment,” said Dr. Gail D’Onofrio, physician-in-chief of the Yale New Haven Hospital ED and leading voice in the effort to improve care for opioid use disorder. “If ER providers can better understand how to care for this population, we can shift the whole paradigm.”
The videos show realistic interactions in the ER between doctor and patient, including information on screening, intervening, treating and managing these patients. The scenes vividly portray the challenges and opportunities practitioners face when treating adult and adolescent patients, following an opioid overdose, seeking treatment or identified by screening, including how to discuss treatment with opioid agonists options, such as buprenorphine, managing withdrawal symptoms or providing harm reduction strategies, such as overdose education and naloxone distribution.
“We must serve patients where they actually are, not where we hope they are. In today’s world, that occurs in the emergency department, which has become the entry point into the medical system for many people suffering from opioid use disorder,” said Dr. Hal Paz, Executive Vice President and Chief Medical Officer at Aetna. “We know that an overdose is often the worst day of someone’s life, but with the right tools, it can also be a turning point to put each patient back on the road to better health and a better life.”