Applying a Population Health Model to the Opioid Abuse Crisis

April 1, 2021
April 1, 2021

Healthcare can improve its approach to the opioid crisis by adopting a population health model. Looking at addiction and abuse as a chronic disease can change the treatment trajectory, according to the HealthStream webinar “The Evolution of the Opioid Crisis from Pain Management to Overdose.” Presenter Dr. Jill Warrington is the Chief Medical Officer at Aspenti Health and has been contributing to the field of laboratory research and medicine for 25 years. A graduate of Tufts Medical School of Medicine, Warrington obtained her Anatomic and Clinical Pathology Training at Duke University School of Medicine and joined the Larner School of Medicine at the University of Vermont in 2009, where she focused on substance use disorders. Warrington has served as a laboratory director at Burlington Labs Aspenti Health since 2011.

A Population Health Approach to the Opioid Crisis

For Warrington, “adopting a population health approach to the opioid addiction crisis is imperative.” Warrington describes healthcare professionals as “immersed in the opioid crisis, and accustomed to think in terms of triage and being reactive.” Healthcare organizations need to get above that crisis mode and be proactive, thinking about risk ratification of our patients, establishing key performance indicators of what constitutes success, and reorienting to focus on outcomes. Countless studies have affirmed the value of moving care to cross-disciplinary coordination and a collaborative care model through integrated teams.

Furthermore, she advises “a programmatic approach to this disease along its entire continuum of care.” The obvious way to do this is to start thinking about opioid use disorder using a chronic disease model, as the true nature of substance use disorders is still being worked out. Likewise, she reminds listeners that “We are still evolving in understanding substance disorders as well as opioid management through pain.”

Adopting a more holistic view of the progression of this disease will help healthcare professionals “better navigate the waters of this crisis.” Much like any other chronic disease, an increased emphasis on prevention and early diagnosis will over time mitigate some of the downstream health outcomes and costs associated with this disease. Warrington tells us that “25% of those that get exposed to opioids develop patterns of aberrant behavior and misuse. Ten percent of those undergo treatment.” It is important to accept that the total number of those who encounter poor outcomes is untold. For Warrington, “If we consider those not exposed to opioids as a population in which we can invest time and effort into preventing exposure, we will in time have traction on this crisis.”

Warrington closed her presentation by challenging and reminding listeners, regardless of their position and level in an organization, that they can have an impact on the opioid crisis. This can occur individually for those personally impacted, at the organizational level as an influence on institutional policy and solutions, or broadly in the field. She reminded everyone that “the choices we make now will affect decades of care.”

Access the full webinar: The Evolution of the Opioid Crisis from Pain Management to Overdose.