National IT Professionals Day part 4: The technology behind prescription drug monitoring programs

National IT Professionals Day part 4: The technology behind prescription drug monitoring programs

Nearly every state in the United States currently has a prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP) in place to track controlled substances prescribed to its citizens. With no affiliation with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), these electronic databases are individually run by each state. However, the lack of accessibility of these information technology (IT) programs has rendered them ineffective in many cases. In honor of National IT Professionals Day on September 15, specialists explore the ways in which this technology is being used and how it can be implemented further to reduce the risk of over-prescribing and prescription drug abuse in the United States.

PDMPs are meant to be regularly updated by pharmacists and providers who dispense prescription medications. Though these databases are typically a wealth of information, they are often a resource that remains untapped by medical professionals, thus defeating their purpose. For this reason, “the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) is leading an effort… to explore opportunities to use health IT to improve health care providers’ ability to access important PDMP data at the point of care.” If this is achieved, doctors and pharmacists alike can easily see an individual’s history of controlled substances before dispensing medication and be more likely to notice red flags for prescription drug abuse.

Kate Tipping, policy analyst with ONC, notes, “Forty-nine states have monitoring programs in place, but most of their providers and pharmacies are not accessing them regularly because it doesn’t fit in with their workflow.” However, New York launched a new program in 2013 that proved successful in increasing the amount of users statewide. Within three months of its implementation, the state’s PDMP had six times the users it previously did. The program, Internet System for Tracking Over-Prescribing Act (I-STOP), now incorporates more user-friendly technology. Previously, doctors or pharmacists were the only people able to access the data and make entries, but I-STOP allows trained staff to access and contribute to the database. California has also made attempts to improve the technology surrounding its monitoring program. ONC has recommendations for states to include in their PDMP technology, such as including direct messaging, e-prescribing and allowing the program to be accessed on the same browser as regular workspaces. These components are believed to increase the rate with which monitoring programs are actually used by medical personnel.

Medical professionals are encouraged to use PDMPs whenever dispensing prescription medications to avoid patient abuse of controlled substances, which the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) notes is often linked with one or more mental health disorders. If you or a loved one is struggling with mental health issues, contact the California Mental Health helpline today to find out more about treatment centers in your area.