An interview with Dr. Rosemarie Parks, District Health Director, Ware County Public Health Department
OVERVIEW: Ware County, Georgia, was one of 2 sites selected for year 2 of a pilot program of the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), NACCHO (the National Association of County and City Health Officials), and our team at NaRCAD (The National Resource Center for Academic Detailing). This exciting pilot program focused on community-level work with local public health departments to develop customized interventions to reduce opioid overdose and death. Six sites experiencing significant public health problems related to opioids were selected over the two years to be trained in academic detailing; those trained health professionals then conducted 1:1 field visits with front line clinicians to impact behavior around prescribing, treatment referrals, and patient care, all within a rural area. As year 2 comes to a close, we’re showcasing stories from the field.
NaRCAD: Thanks so much for joining us to share how your detailing project has gone in Ware County, Georgia, Dr. Parks. Can you talk to us a bit about how the opioid crisis has presented itself in your community?
Rosemarie: Our agency serves 16 counties in Southeast Georgia, and we have seen the same things across all of these counties. The opioid crisis affects the community across the board; in every sector. Law enforcement is seeking the effects of this crisis, so is healthcare, and people that work with children and families. They all acknowledge that they’re seeing it in their day-to-day work. So many public health topics only affect one sector, but this opioid crisis affects them all.
NaRCAD: With it affecting so many, did you think the strategy of academic detailing would lend itself to improving patient health in response to the opioid crisis in Ware County?
Rosemarie: Being a clinician myself, I did initially see how academic detailing would be a good public health intervention. I thought academic detailing would make the lives of providers better by providing them with evidence-based information and resources. As we discussed during the training with NaRCAD, there’s so much information out there, and it’s really difficult to sort through all of it.
In public health, we’re facilitators, data people, and information sharers. I really believed AD would work when I saw the statistics about Ware County during the 2-day training. Ware County is the highest prescribing county in the state, and the 12th highest prescribing county in the nation. Those statistics are eye-opening, and I believed that would make detailing successful in Ware County by raising awareness of how the opioid crisis is impacting our own community.
NaRCAD: You mentioned being a clinician—you’re also the Public Health Director for your district. How does being both a clinician and the Public Health Director make it easier for you to be successful as a detailer?
Rosemarie: My position allowed me to easily make appointments, and I did not have difficulties getting in the door, like so many other detailers do. I often had visits that were a lot longer than the usual 15 minutes, because clinicians would set aside more time to talk to me. My clinical experience as a primary care physician in private practice for many years made is so that I could relate to the clinicians, and allowed for more honest sharing. I would tell other doctors what worked and didn’t work for my practice, and that made them more comfortable opening up about their own experiences.
NaRCAD: That’s excellent—this is an example of how pre-existing relationships and a fusion of both experience in clinical care as well as public health can really merge to encourage change. What else was unique about your detailing experience?
Rosemarie: Another thing that was unique in Ware County is we did both 1:1 visits, as the original model suggests, as well as group visits. There were many occasions upon which multiple providers and key leadership from a health system were all together in one room. This allowed providers to hear from other providers, and I saw that as a critical dynamic. The conversations continued well after those visits ended, and still continue to this day. It was also important that key leadership was present because they heard exactly how the issue is impacting clinicians and patients, and they have the power to make decisions affecting opioids in their health system.
NaRCAD: It’s great to hear that a group education approach worked so well. What would you say has been the most impactful piece of this intervention?
Rosemarie: I think academic detailing for the opioid crisis worked so well in Ware County because public health is seen as a neutral entity, and because of that, we were able to effectively facilitate these discussions. We do a lot of work in the healthcare community but it is rare that the public health department takes the time to visit an individual practice or provider. During my visits, I witnessed clinicians take in the data about how Ware is one of the highest prescribing counties in the nation, and saw how it immediately encouraged them to want to make a change.
After answering initial questions about where the data came from, clinicians were open to discussing things in more detail, and were consistent in enacting the CDC’s opioid stewardship recommendations, especially consistently using the PDMP. It also gave clinicians the opportunity to express concerns and challenges they face in their daily practices.
NaRCAD: We’re so glad academic detailing has been impactful in your community. What has the greatest challenge been with implementing a successful academic detailing intervention to improve opioid safety in Ware County?
Rosemarie: The overall experience has been fantastic. As we discussed, the providers were really open and honest. For me personally, as a detailer, it was difficult not to feel like I needed to be the one who had all the answers. I handled this by being a link to information, rather than having all of the information myself.
For instance, when a clinician asked a question, or requested a resource I didn’t know about, I’d say something along the lines of, “Let me do some research about that, and when I come back I’ll be sure to have that information.” It helped when I was able to give the disclaimer that “I’m by no means the expert, but I’ve learned a tremendous amount about opioids and the crisis, and I’m here to share some of that information with you. And if I don’t know the answer to something, I can find someone who does.”
NaRCAD: That’s a great way to handle that kind of situation, and academic detailers are indeed the connector to resources, and certainly don’t need to know all of the answers. Well-handled! And speaking of not knowing all the answers, what is something you wish you knew prior to joining the LOOPR Academic Detailing project?
Rosemarie: Personally, there were no big surprises. Everyone did a great job in explanting the process, executing the training, and providing resources. Like anything though, you don’t really get the hang of it until you get those first few visits under your belt and become more comfortable. Overall, this has been a great experience. It was so helpful having additional resources, learning from people that are highly knowledgeable and respected in this field, and being able to share experiences across all LOOPR sites with other detailers who are doing the same work.
Dr. Rosemarie D. Parks serves as the District Health Director for the Southeast Health District (District 9-2, Waycross, GA). She has overseen the 16 county health departments, 3 wellness clinics, and over 50 programs since moving to rural Georgia from Ohio in 2005. Dr. Parks holds a Master of Public Health degree from Youngstown State University, Ohio, and a Medical Doctorate from the Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine. She is board certified in internal medicine. She is also a member of the National Association of County and City Health Officials.
As the District Health Director for the past 14 years, Dr. Parks has overseen telemedicine and teledentistry projects that have expanded new technology to meet the ever-growing needs of a rural population. She has also worked diligently with community partners in planning to combat the opioid epidemic and strategized for innovative solutions to meet the public health needs of the community.
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