The genius of the American health care system is its fragmentation. And by ‘genius,’ I mean evil genius, or demented genius. And sadly, also ‘very stable genius,’ since that awful fragmentation has been stubbornly resistant to change. It’s a great way to maximize revenue and expenditures, but not the best way to provide care to patients – and it leads to much of the poor care and unaffordable costs that we face.
In many organizations caring for patients over 65, their medication use is stripped away into Medicare drug benefit plans separate from the way the rest of their clinical care is paid for and organized. Many payors in the private and public sector carve out the use of drugs for specific conditions, removing it from the organization and payment for the care of the illnesses those drugs treat.
Outside integrated health care systems, in many settings the content and costs of prescribing decisions live in a pharmacy silo separate from ambulatory care, which itself is often a world apart from inpatient care, with all of these sectors de-coupled from assessment of clinical outcomes and patient satisfaction. But sick people don’t come in silos, and the drugs we prescribe for them drive hospitalization and other clinical outcomes and the enormous human and economic costs of both.
Academic detailing can help pull these domains together in a way that can make medical care more person-based and evidence-based, as well as more cost-effective. The AD interventions that work best start from the global perspective of the practitioner: how to diagnose and care for a given clinical problem, whether it’s Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, or incontinence, rather than focusing narrowly on simple medication use questions (“Don’t prescribe Drug X; Drug Z isn’t on the formulary”).
This holistic approach is what clinicians and patients need and want, and the one most likely to bring about optimal care decisions. Such a “beyond the drug silo” approach also has implications for the content and focus of the printed clinical materials our programs use, as well as the interactive approach employed by the outreach educator in these programs.
Focusing on silo-busting can also help the academic detailer be seen as a valued colleague helping the clinician improve overall patient care, rather than as a nag, a busybody, or a scold. And as the US health care system continues its slow transition away from the evils of fragmentation to a more rational approach that focuses more on integration of care and less on widget-based revenue maximization, the comprehensive, clinical outcome based vision of academic detailing will increasingly help to pull all the pieces back together where they belong.
Want more? Peruse the archive of Jerry's pieces here on DETAILS.
Jerry Avorn, MD, Co-Director, NaRCAD
Dr. Avorn is Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Chief of the Division of Pharmacoepidemiology and Pharmacoeconomics (DoPE) at Brigham & Women's Hospital. A general internist and drug epidemiologist, he pioneered the concept of academic detailing and is recognized internationally as a leading expert on this topic and on optimal medication use. Read more.
Director’s Letter: Mike Fischer, MD, MS
The opioid crisis has been recognized as a major national public health problem, but it actually reflects a collection of many thousands of local crises playing out in individual cities and counties. Each region faces a distinctive set of challenges, driven by economic and social factors, local medical practice patterns, political environment and pressures, and many other considerations.
Identifying and implementing effective solutions to address the opioid crisis requires developing an understanding of how these individual challenges interact, and what strategies are most effective in specific situations--one of which is academic detailing.
The NaRCAD team is partnering with the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and NACCHO (the National Association of City and County Health Officials) on an exciting pilot program working with local health officials to develop customized interventions to reduce opioid overdose and death. Four sites experiencing significant public health problems related to opioids were selected: Boone County, Kentucky; Bell County, West Virginia; Manchester, New Hampshire; and Dayton, Ohio.
Public health officials at each site identified a wide range of local stakeholders to participate in developing a community action plan and recruited trainees to complete NaRCAD’s academic detailing training course, which we customized to address the unique challenges that each community faces. We also developed a specialized online toolkit for these sites, including discussion boards, local resources, and printable resources.
We traveled to each site in March and April of this year, facilitating hands-on trainings in the techniques of academic detailing in alignment with the CDC prescribing guidelines. Trainees came from diverse backgrounds, including pharmacists, nurses, public health officials, and students in the health professions, including pharmacy students, dental students, and medical school students.
Plans for implementing AD varied by site depending on the local health care environment; some sites focused more heavily on appropriate prescribing of opioids by clinicians, while others prioritized increasing referral rates for patients with opioid use disorder (OUD), including access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT).
As the AD trainees at each pilot site continue their work in the field, we’ll learn more about how these diverse strategies succeed, and how we can support adaptations to make academic detailing more impactful. This important collaboration has allowed us to form invaluable partnerships with CDC and NACCHO, leveraging national resources to improve local responses to this epidemic through plans that respond more precisely to local needs and priorities.
We’re excited for this pilot program to serve as a model for future opioid safety AD interventions, and we’ll be providing updates here on the blog. In the meantime, tell us: what's happening in your local community around the opioid crisis? Sound off in the comments section below, and let us know if you think clinician-facing education could be a strategy that would improve outcomes for your community. And join us for our next training and our terrific annual conference to learn more about this and other exciting AD projects.
Michael Fischer, MD, MS | Director of NaRCAD
Dr. Fischer is a general internist, pharmacoepidemiologist, and health services researcher. He is an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard and a clinically active primary care physician and educator at Brigham & Women’s Hospital. With extensive experience in designing and evaluating interventions to improve medication use, he has published numerous studies demonstrating potential gains from improved prescribing. Read more.
Highlighting Best Practices
We highlight what's working in clinical education through interviews, features, event recaps, and guest blogs, offering clinical educators the chance to share successes and lessons learned from around the country & beyond.