Via Christi hospitals are using a new computer system in their emergency departments to track patients and their prescriptions – an effort to help physicians identify possible substance abusers.
Officials at the state Board of Pharmacy think it could be a model for the entire state.
The new system is integrated into Via Christi’s electronic medical records and uses a “stoplight” procedure with green, yellow and red color-coding that can alert physicians to the number of prescriptions a patient has been given in the last 100 days.
Since the emergency department at Via Christi St. Joseph started using the system a couple of months ago, physicians already have seen a decrease in the number of people who come in to get narcotics inappropriately, said Brian Katan, emergency medicine physician at Via Christi.
“With a cancer patient, you’re going to have large number of controlled substances provided to them, which is appropriate,” Katan said.
“But if you have an otherwise healthy 22-year-old who has no incapacitating chronic medical condition who has managed to get 10 different scripts from seven providers in the last 100 days, this is a real red flag that something else is going on besides legitimate medical issues.”
The new system is necessary because of growing prescription drug abuse nationwide, Katan said.
More than 12 million people reported using prescription painkillers inappropriately in 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control. More people in the U.S. die from overdoses of prescription medicines each year than from illegal drugs, such as cocaine and heroin.
More than half of people who abuse prescription painkillers reportedly get them from friends or relatives, and about 17 percent are prescribed them by a doctor, according to reports.
The number of prescription painkillers sold to pharmacies, hospitals and doctors’ offices was four times greater in 2010 than in 1999, according to the CDC.
The new system uses hard-to-access state data from the Board of Pharmacy’s Kansas Tracking and Reporting of Controlled Substances (K-TRACS) system and makes it faster for physicians to identify patients and their prescriptions.
K-TRACS went online in 2010. The Board of Pharmacy received a $450,000 federal grant last year to improve the prescription drug monitoring program, and a portion of that money went to Via Christi to develop its system.
K-TRACS interfaces with data from 38 states across the country, and all states except Missouri have some sort of prescription drug monitoring program, said Marty Singleton, assistant director of the state Board of Pharmacy and director of K-TRACS.
Singleton said the pharmacy board will work to educate other hospitals, clinics and doctors’ offices about Via Christi’s system in case they are interested in using it or creating something similar.
“My perception is if it’s as simple as Via Christi has made it in their network, the usage of K-TRACS would skyrocket, and I think there would be a reduction in prescriptions for controlled substances,” Singleton said.
Ultimately, if more physicians use the data, Singleton thinks the number of overdoses will also be reduced.
Only one other group, the Lewis and Clark Information Exchange in Kansas City – one of the state’s two electronic medical record networks – is working with Cerner to incorporate K-TRACS data into its electronic medical record system, but it doesn’t have the “stoplight” design, Singleton said.
Dave Gestenslager, who designs software and applications for Via Christi Health, said that after testing it in Wichita, the health system is using the program at all of its hospitals statewide. It’s also in the process of rolling it out to its clinics.
“Nationally there is a drive to push this data to physicians like we’re doing here, as opposed to them having to go and hunt it down,” Gestenslager said.
Gestenslager and his team wrote the program as an open-source application so that others will be able to use it statewide.
“We’re looking at ways to either provide just a model that can be patterned or even doing some direct help to other facilities who do some of the same things,” he said.