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Two-Tiered Healthcare Education about Opioid Abuse Can Improve Treatment Outcomes

As the opioid crisis continues to unfold across the United States, healthcare providers are increasingly caught in the crosshairs of a dilemma: How to provide the highest quality patient care while also complying with federal, state, and local mandates around prescribing and reporting abuse. HealthStream has created an entire course library, Opioids: Tackling the Crisis Through Person-Centered Care, designed to discuss not just the epidemic, but opioid use for conditions such as chronic pain, the risks of opioid use, and how to identify and manage opioid use disorder (OUD).

The coursework developed by HealthStream has two modules: The first is an “all learners,” or general audience course, which is intended to help get the word out to all healthcare workers. It provides a high-level overview of the crisis to raise awareness and encourage learners to do what they can to make a difference at work, at home and within their community. A second course is designed for clinicians and includes CE credit.

General Course Provides Overview and Action Steps

“We went with two courses because we knew something was needed at a very general level, because of the ‘everybody knows somebody’ aspect of opioid addiction,” explains Debbie Newsholme, Senior Director of Content Operations for HealthStream. “It’s a family member, friend, or acquaintance who has either taken opioids or has had a problem with addiction. Too often, patients have fallen into that cycle because they weren’t properly educated around the risks. Only recently has the prescription process included a sit-down with the patient, and family members or caregivers if necessary, to talk about what these drugs are, and why they are being given—and that there is a risk of addiction if they are taken for longer than the period prescribed or taken incorrectly.”

Clinical Course Drills into Patient Interaction and Lessening Risk Exposure

The second course is a deeper dive, providing actionable information and options to providers and physicians who see opioid prescriptions as an increasingly unacceptable risk to their practices and systems. Newsholme says some are referring patients out to specialists in pain management, for instance, and that could lead to interruption of care or become a hurdle for patients when it comes to managing their conditions.

“We wanted to provide CDC recommendations for managing acute and chronic pain and how that risk can be managed within their practices,” Newsholme says. “There is a lot of information about what OUD looks like, and we want to share that because many of these physicians have not seen it since they don’t deal with addiction treatment. We wanted to take the general course, add more specific information, and synthesize it into something that addresses all the points that providers need answered.”

Adapt and Adopt Are Watchwords for Future Course Development

Because the singular-opioid crisis doesn’t exist in a vacuum, but rather is a fast-moving and complex issue, the coursework reflects that. According to Newsholme, content development is also occurring in the following areas, with more additions to come over time:

  • Identification of Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) programs: From emergency room to outpatient care
  • Effecting behavior change with motivational interviewing
  • Diversion in the healthcare setting
  • Diversion in the home-health and hospice setting
  • Prescribing best practices for physicians and other LIPs
  • Risks for overdose and naloxone prescribing/ patient education
  • Understanding people and populations at risk for OUD and early intervention strategies


“It’s not a static problem, so we have to keep up,” she says. “We look at our topics in terms of a snapshot: what does the issue look like today? It likely will be different in three months, and more so in six months. In addition to adding new elements, we are also going back in to make changes to the existing coursework if something of major significance happens.”

Upon completion, those who have taken the course should have mastery in the following areas:

  • Improved screening and diagnosis of opioid misuse and OUD
  • Increased use of the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) in each state
  • Early intervention plans for those at risk
  • Increased referrals to a MAT program
  • Improved collaboration between hospitals and community programs
  • Evidence of follow-through for affected individuals according to CDC guidelines


“The fluid nature and unpredictability of addiction make it a tough subject to study. Using all the data at hand and being able to adapt quickly to changes in the OUD landscape allows the coursework for healthcare professionals at every level to meet the need for awareness, patient support, and next steps,” Newsholme says.

“This is about creating knowledge and awareness within organizations and with providers,” she says. “Some knowledge is already there certainly, but this work will amplify it, and hopefully those who take the courses will share what they learn with family and friends. That way the information gets out into the community and provides information that is useful. We really see this as a social consciousness program, something that’s not meant to only stay within the four walls of a doctor’s office or healthcare facility.”

This blog post excerpts the HealthStream article, “Seeing Past the Opioid Problem: Staff Awareness and Patient Empathy are Key Components of Opioid-Addiction Training Curriculum.” Download the complete article, which contains information the educational courseware options now available from HealthStream about Opioid Addiction.

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